6 Insane Space Stories You Didn't Learn In History Class
Ever since humans first looked into the endless night sky, we have dreamed of traveling among the stars. And after 10,000 years of ingenuity and sacrifice, we've journeyed as far as ... Earth's garage, basically.
But nonetheless, such is our fascination with going to space that pretty much every single moment those brave astronauts have spent out there has been painstakingly recorded and analyzed -- including the deeply embarrassing ones. We've all, at some point, been caught in gross, awkward, or just plain stupid situations, but few have done that in plain view of the infinite cosmos, like when ...
An Astronaut Told The Entire World He Had The Farts
We've talked before about how a real danger for Apollo 10 astronauts was getting pelted by an errant space turd, and when given the incredibly great honor of interviewing astronaut rock star Chris Hadfield, we obviously couldn't wait to ask him about the joys of urinating and defecating in space.
But those guys had their gastrointestinal hijinks within the safety of their shuttles and space stations -- no mortal butt has touched the universe more directly than the one belonging to astronaut John Young, who developed a biblical case of the farts while standing on the friggin' moon in 1972. And he made sure that everybody in Houston knew it.
"Yeah, we can smell them from over here."
Young accidentally left his mic on and recorded permanently and for all of humanity the fact that all the fruit they were eating was giving him some serious gas. Fortunately, the microphone wasn't strong enough to capture the butt blasts themselves. Oh, and he also threw a few "fucks" in there, because how often does one get to say "fuck" in space? (Technically, all the time, but you know what we mean.) Have you ever let one out and noticed someone else was in the room? Imagine turning around and seeing the whole planet there. You can hear the exact moment Young realizes what's going on:
That one came with a little extra, apparently.
Florida Governor Reubin Askew was so miffed that Young was blaming his ass gas on his state's fruits that he went to the press and reassured the American public that Florida oranges do not turn your anus into a machine gun. In fact, it was the extra potassium that was giving Young his astral flatulence. Two of the astronauts on the previous Apollo mission had developed minor heart problems on their flight, so NASA upped the potassium in the crew's diet on Young's mission, with the unfortunate side-effect of making him zip around the capsule, powered by his rectal discharge. (And yes, we noticed the word "ass" is in potassium. Grow up, please.)
But don't laugh, because farts in space were a major safety concern in the early stages of the space program. Zero-G makes astronauts unable to belch (pushing the gas into the intestines instead), and the low air pressure reduces the threshold for butt burps. All that methane mixing with the pure oxygen environment can create a literally explosive situation, which means that NASA spent taxpayer money analyzing the composition and quantity of astronauts' farts to adjust their diets accordingly. Good looking out, NASA.
"Yeah mom, NASA is great. They have me working on a really ... *sigh* ... really important project."
The Crew Of Discovery Had To Melt A Giant Pee Icicle
If you've seen Apollo 13, then Tom Hanks' urine fetish has already given you a good idea of how peeing in space works: You relieve yourself into a tank on board and then the tank sprays your handiwork into space.
Later, on Earth: literal golden showers.
Space piss technology has not dramatically advanced since the heady days of the Moon Race, and the space shuttle's wastewater system functioned essentially the same way. But then, there was a problem -- a giant, stinky, yellow problem. In 1984, something went wrong with the space shuttle Discovery's waste-dump system; urine had clogged the nozzle and developed a sizable pee icicle, which was hanging off the side of the shuttle. While this is an irrefutably hilarious situation to us, it was actually a major concern to the crew, because a 30-pound icicle snapping off during re-entry could damage the shuttle's extremely delicate heat shield. No one wanted to be the guy who got killed by a monstrous chunk of frozen urine, so the astronauts had to use all their training and cunning to remove the deadly piss Popsicle.
The first approach was to simply melt the bastard off, so for three days the crew angled the peeberg toward the sun, but they were devastated to discover that barely made a dent. So invincible was this whiz monolith that not even the full power of the goddamn sun could weaken it. Sending an astronaut on a spacewalk wasn't desirable because of the danger involved (also because ewww), so Houston devised a way to use the shuttle's grabber arm to break the icicle. The arm was able to yank the thing hard enough to shoot all that body fluid into the vast abyss of space. And so the universal ballet continues.
The shuttle's Calvin decal never looked more appropriate.
But the Futurama episode was far from over. Even with the icicle gone, the crew couldn't dump any more pee overboard, so they had to start using bags normally reserved for going number two. The problem with this is that urine is naturally a fluid, and in zero gravity it's susceptible to bounce straight out of the bag and go all over the place. The astronauts eventually decided to pack the bag and their junk with towels and underwear to absorb any wayward pee before it could escape. And thus, the crew was saved from The Deadly Pee Incident of 1984. Just as Orwell predicted. Probably.
John Young (Again!) Smuggled A Sandwich Into Space, Nearly Killed Everyone
The Gemini program was an important episode in America's race to the moon and saw a number of firsts, including the first American spacewalk, the first time two spacecraft docked, and the first corned beef sandwich to orbit the Earth. During Gemini 3, Astronaut John "He Dealt It" Young smuggled a sandwich aboard the rocket in his spacesuit, confirming that he was basically Homer Simpson if he was an astr- he was basically Homer Simpson.
While in orbit, Young whipped out the sandwich for a "taste test" and kindly shared some with his surprised co-pilot, Gus Grissom. Grissom took a bite (hey, a free sandwich is a free sandwich) but quickly stuffed it in his suit when crumbs started flying around the capsule:
"Fine, I forgot to bring food for my dog anyway."
See, the official food given to astronauts had a special coating to prevent this very thing, because crumbs could get behind electrical panels and wreak all sorts of havoc (which is also the explanation for those fancy zero-gravity space pens). NASA was not amused and told future flights not to pull this kind of shit. Congress also got a bug up its ass about the sandwich ... not so much for the safety of the crew but because taxpayers had spent millions of dollars slaving over a hot stove to make this special food, and these rocket jockeys were brown-bagging it?! Not on their water-resistant Casios! Under pressure from Congress, a NASA administrator assured the public, "We have taken steps ... to prevent the recurrence of corned beef sandwiches in future flights," because lunch on Earth is death in the stars.
The Soviets Gave Their Cosmonauts Sawed-Off Shotguns For Protection From Bears
Sawed-off shotguns are mainly used by: 1) stagecoach drivers in the Wild West (pistols were too inaccurate while bouncing along the dirt, and rifles too unwieldy), 2) Omar in The Wire, and 3) Russian cosmonauts. Yep, while American astronauts were armed with sandwiches and flatulence, their Russian counterparts were packing this:
The third cannon is for storing vodka.
The TP-82 pistol was developed specifically for cosmonauts and packed enough punch to take out a half-ton grizzly bear. That specification is not an accident, either -- despite our sincerest hopes that the Ruskies had armed their cosmonauts with a hand cannon to fight off aliens or in the event they got into a space-train robbery gunfight with the Americans, the gun was actually intended as a survival measure once they were back on Earth. Why? Because unlike the stupid Americans, who directed their spacecraft into the Pacific Ocean, the Soviets cleverly pointed their returning capsules to the nice, soft rock of Siberia. And, as is wont to happen, capsules occasionally went off course, landing somewhere else in the vast, inhospitable wasteland.
In one such instance, two cosmonauts ended up stranded in the middle of the woods in the Urals, 600 miles from their intended landing site, with only a 9 mm pistol to deal with the bears and wolves that lurked in the woods around them. Despite the fact they never encountered either, they managed to convince their bosses that future crews should be packing more heat. Sadly, American crews were never given a survival harpoon gun to deal with sharks, despite repeated suggestion-box requests by one "J. Young."
NASA Used A Rube Goldberg Device As Their Launch Pad Escape Plan
With all the inherent danger that comes with having a tiny capsule resting upon millions of pounds of explosives and fuel, you would think the one time you wouldn't have to worry about it would be when it's sitting on the launch pad, scratching its ass. Unfortunately, that was not the case with the Apollo 1 mission spacecraft, so after that tragedy they had to develop some new methods. Ridiculous-looking ones.
On the space shuttle, once the astronauts managed to get out of their sideways seats with their clunky space suits, they had to hop into large baskets attached to a quarter-mile-long steel cable and zipline down to the ground at about 60 mph. It was half superhero show opening sequence, half Disneyland ride.
Since this is Florida, they're required by law to queue for 45 minutes, and one has to cry.
But just because the astronauts left the shuttle doesn't mean the launch stopped, which means they could have an unmanned flying bomb about to fall on their heads. So, just in case, the astronauts hop out of the baskets and immediately trundle over to some old Army anti-mine vehicles to protect them from explosions while they pray that their driver didn't go to the Prometheus school of escaping tall, falling objects.
This is still better than the plan NASA originally developed for Apollo, which was to send the astronauts down a giant slide into a bunker located 40 feet below the launch pad. They called it the Rubber Room, which sounds like Pee-Wee Herman's S&M dungeon.
Incidentally, it's furnished with porno cinema seats.
The bunker could withstand a small nuclear blast, an odd level of protection considering the Apollo rockets were powered with plain old kerosene and hydrogen. We'd wonder if there's something NASA is hiding, but the gentleman in the black suit outside our window has told us to stop asking questions.
NASA Accidentally Erased The Tapes From The First Moon Landing
A common trope in sitcoms back in the days of VHS was to have a character tape over something important like a wedding video, because despite the fact that they could inexplicably live in digs usually reserved for multi-millionaires, nobody ever went and got some extra blank video tapes. Now imagine that it happened in real life, only instead of taping over somebody's piano recital, they erased the original tapes of the single greatest achievement in the history of the entire planet.
Fortunately, there's like 5 million other copies.
No, not that greatest achievement in the history of the entire planet. The other one. In 2006, NASA admitted that they had kinda sorta lost track of what had happened to the original video, audio, and data tapes that had been made during the Apollo 11 mission. They promised it was totes not a big deal and it was probably just stuck in their video collection somewhere between a recording of an old hockey game and the first half of Twins that someone taped off TV. NASA eventually came back with some good news and some bad news: They had located the tapes, but they had been completely erased and reused.
They had to admit this after someone pointed out Phil Collins didn't appear in the original version.
To cut costs in the space program, NASA had resorted to reusing tapes on later missions. At some point, a NASA employee came across the tapes that were presumably labeled "APL 11/MASH S02E09" (to save costs on Sharpies) and dumped them back into the mix, where they were wiped clean.
For conspiracy theorists, this is too incompetent to be a coincidence, and if there's anybody that knows incompetence, it's conspiracy theorists. But, in a remarkable twist, it was the news networks that saved the day by not having their heads up their asses. CBS News still had the tapes they made of the original broadcast and lent them to the government. NASA made some bootleg digital copies, and they are now all safely stored on a single CheapTek external hard drive that they found on eBay.