He has been a free-lance writer since 1978. He has written extensively on aerospace, business and government, and the history of technology, publishing some 300 articles in magazines such as American Heritage and Air & Space. He has also written for the National Academy of Sciences, and contributed regularly to Mosaic of the National Science Foundation. Mr. Heppenheimer also has written twelve hardcover books. Three of them — Colonies in Space (1977), Toward Distant Suns (1979), and The Man-Made Sun (1984) — have been alternate selections of the Book-of-the-Month Club. His Turbulent Skies (1995), a history of commercial aviation, is part of the Technology Book Series of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It also has been produced as a four-part, four-hour Public Broadcasting System television series, "Chasing the Sun."
Under contract to NASA, Heppenheimer has written that agency's authorized history of the space shuttle. NASA SP-4221, The Space Shuttle Decision: NASA's Search for a Reusable Space Vehicle (1999), explains the Shuttle's origins and early development. In addition to internal NASA discussions, this work details the debates in the late 1960s and early 1970s among policymakers in Congress, the Air Force, and the Office of Management and Budget over the roles and technical designs of the Shuttle. This volume has been reissued in paperback by the Smithsonian Institution Press and has been selected as an Outstanding Academic Title.