An upbeat synthesizer blares over the stereo as an excited voice greets listeners eagerly explaining the latest space news.
“It’s been bouncing around in my head for days, weeks I guess,” Anthony Colangelo said when introducing the topic of a recent episode of his “Main Engine Cut Off” podcast: “Northrop Grumman and Firefly team up with Antares” .
“Let’s break it all down,” he said. “This wouldn’t have happened if Russia hadn’t invaded Ukraine.”
And so on the show. Colangelo launches into an explanation behind the Antares rocket deal: which Northrop would use to supply the International Space Station. Currently, Northrop relies on a Ukrainian supplier for the Antares first stage to launch its Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS. Colangelo explains these facts with the same light-hearted excitement you might expect from a YouTuber reviewing his favorite Marvel movie.
While some internet personalities seek out the stars, Colangelo, who spent time as a college student in Central Florida, could be a star seeking a seat of authority to claim on the subject of rockets and rocket science. Politics.
In 2016, Colangelo launched his spaceflight podcast – MECO for short – and didn’t see it skyrocket in followers so much as he quietly launched into online space discussions, becoming an authority on financially supported rocket.
“It’s hard not to be excited about what’s happening in human spaceflight right now,” he said. “I think to some degree everyone is interested in space the same way I am, because there are people who fly in space from time to time, and everyone wants to go a little in space. Even if you say you don’t, you probably do a little.
MECO has nearly 800 Patreon subscribers, each of whom individually pays between $3 and $50 per month for content. If everyone downloads an episode as it’s released, Colangelo’s show falls into the top 5% of podcasts online, according to a report by Podcast Host, which found that podcast episodes with 500 downloads were among the best shows. Those with more than 3,000 were among the top 1%.
Although he does not currently reside in central Florida, Colangelo drives through Philadelphia and the Space Coast specifically to watch the rocket launch. More recently, he was in town to watch Artemis I take off. The mission was cleared but his visit was not a failure as the trip also served as a hangout for his fans. The day before Artemis’ scheduled launch, Colangelo met with about 30 podcast fans at Grills Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar in Port Canaveral. The next day, he and 20 fans gathered on the beach to witness the launch of the mission. Despite the disappointing turn of events, MECO fans still had a great time meeting their host.
The trip was worth it, Colangelo said. Although he can’t wait to see Artemis take off. Rocket launches have been a lifelong passion for Colangelo, ever since his first experience in 2009 when he attended Full Sail University in Winter Park to study web design.
Although Colangelo’s love of spaceflight is so ingrained in his origin story, he doesn’t quite remember when it started. Spaceflight has always been a part of his life as a shared fascination between him and his father, who on work trips to Washington DC would take Colangelo to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
“I’ve always been a bit obsessed with it,” Colangelo said.
The event that fueled his obsession enough to escape speed and become a passion in his own right was his move to Orlando to attend Full Sail. The school’s two-year web design program appealed to her interest in earning a degree in an ever-changing industry. During his first week on campus, he and his father got wind of a scheduled midnight launch at Cape Canaveral. It happened to be her father’s birthday. The flare lit up the night, resembling a sprinting sunrise across the sky.
“It was fun. It was such a great introduction to life in Florida,” Colangelo said.
It was the start of a regular trip to Titusville to watch rockets light up the sky with his friend. However, a sad memory lingers as he caught the final launch marking the end of the space shuttle program. However, he’s not one to lament, as remembering SpaceX’s first two Falcon 9 launches in 2010 gives him a happy, afterburner glow. After graduating from Full Sail, Colangelo moved to Philadelphia to start working for a web development company, which offered a flexible schedule allowing him to travel to Florida and watch launches.
In 2014, Colangelo was beginning to gain attention with a web design blog and a podcast. At the end of the year, the United Launch Alliance launched the Delta IV heavy rocket, which was used to launch an uncrewed test flight of the Orion spacecraft. Using his credentials as a podcast host (and not being totally honest about the content of his show), Colangelo was able to watch the launch from a NASA social event. Watching the Heavy take off was the catalyst that ultimately ignited the MECO podcast boosters.
“I was there and it clicked. I absolutely have to figure out how to get more involved in this stuff. Because I like to write. I love podcasting. It felt like a good fit,” he said.
A year later, Main Engine Cut Off was cleared for launch. Whose name was meant to be a joke referring to when the first stage of a multi-stage rocket went off.
“I was going to keep each podcast episode shorter than the time it takes for a shuttle to get to the main engine off, which is about eight and a half minutes. And it didn’t end like that at all,” he said, laughing at his ambition.
On average, recent episodes are between 30 and 45 minutes long and cover topics such as space politics, trade deals for rockets and space exploration equipment, and of course launches.
As for the growth of the show, it took six years for Main Engine Cut Off to reach its current height. Colangelo thinks growth has been slow, but he feels like slow growth equals substantial growth — growth that left him confident enough to quit his job as a web developer and pursue other projects.
As for space, he is excited about what is yet to come in the Artemis program and its lunar goals.
“We are at a very interesting inflection point, technologically but also politically and geopolitically,” he said. “Someone will be walking on the moon in the near future. How close the future is is up for debate. Who this person is is up for debate, but there are a lot of people trying again to walk on the moon in the near future, and I can’t find anything more interesting than that.
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