5 Totally Non-Science-y Things That Have Been Snuck into Space
When you’re going into space, it’s not like some road trip where you can lash a bunch of crap onto the roof and toss a couple bags of Bugles into the backseat. For good reason, every single thing that’s going up there has to be considered and calculated for. Given that by making the trip, you’re basically spitting in the face of God, risks have to be minimized.
However, it’s just another situation where “please don’t” loses against its eternal enemy, “I want to, though.” Especially knowing it’s a trip that even the luckiest of astronauts won’t get many chances to make, the allure of bringing a favorite or weird item is sometimes too much to resist. After all, when tucking any bit of random bullshit into your spacesuit pocket immediately makes that item basically museum-worthy, wouldn’t you want to create a modern relic?
Here are five items that have been surreptitiously snuck into space…
A Non-NASA Approved Watch
If you’re at all interested in watches, you probably know the Omega Speedmaster’s claim to fame as the first watch worn on the moon. Hell, even now, the proper product name, the Omega Speedmaster Professional, is used interchangeably with the nickname “Moonwatch.” Omega surely doesn’t mind, given that they’ve made about a jillion limited editions commemorating this reputation, and engrave the fact on the caseback. It’s also the only watch approved by NASA for use in space missions. It is not, though, the only one used, thanks to the preferences of Colonel William Pogue and a tiny Japanese-made stowaway.
A soon-to-be-famous Seiko Speed-Timer Caliber 6139 automatic chronograph was Pogue’s personal watch, and when NASA didn’t get them their sanctioned Speedmasters before flight training started, he used it in their interstellar dress rehearsals. He eventually got his Speedmaster, but at that point, he didn’t want to switch equipment, NASA-approved or not, and snuck the Seiko on board as well. He used it for all his assignments during his 84 days aboard the International Space Station. Even today, among watch collectors, the 6139 in that specific colorway, with a signature yellow dial, is nicknamed the “Pogue.”
You’d think that NASA would prefer not to send any pranksters into space. It might be good for morale, but the inherently dangerous nature of space flight doesn’t invite the presence of a wildcard. Astronaut Wally Schirra somehow convinced the people in charge that his naturally mischievous nature could be kept in check, and it was… mostly. One bit he did commit to required a prop, which is now displayed in the Smithsonian.
It’s a Hohner brand “Little Lady” harmonica, an instrument likely chosen for its eminent smugglability. What was the purpose? Well, outside of maybe some occasional space blues straight out of Cowboy Bebop, Schirra used it, along with some small bells, in a prank on December 16th. He popped onto the space radio line reporting a low-flying, unidentified object that was looking to enter earth’s atmosphere… and then played “Jingle Bells." Again, can’t say he didn’t commit to the bit.
Secret Psychic Tests
The previous entry was just a goof, not any sort of genuine experiment. This entry is somewhere in between, depending on your belief in the supernatural. Experiments done in research of things like telepathy aren’t completely unknown in government circles, but it’s definitely not a variable NASA wanted included in space exploration. There’s enough unknowns up there without including the possibility that psychic activity is real.
Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, though, apparently had his own distinct interest in the possibility of brain-to-brain human communication, even from above the atmosphere. In pursuit of spooky answers, he smuggled a series of flashcards onto Apollo 14, which he used to test the possible existence of extrasensory perception with some planet-bound buddies. He attempted to beam the symbols on his cards down to the planet. They did better than expected, but in his words, the results were only “moderately significant.”
Corned Beef Sandwich
Some things might be banned from space for more issues of focus, or just preventing general fucking around. Others have specific, carefully predicted dangers that keep them off the space-bound vehicle. The food astronauts bring, for example, is carefully considered and packaged. Anyone who’s ever eaten a Nature Valley granola bar can understand why certain snacks aren’t ideal in zero g.
This also eliminates certain staple foods. Obviously, rice isn’t ideal since you don’t want to risk, in Mitch Hedberg’s words, spilling “two thousand of something.” Off the table as well: bread. Although it might be a contained unit at first, as soon as you get to eating, you’re now tossing out dry crumbs willy-nilly in an electronic box that’s looking for any opportunity to short-circuit or start a fire. So, as goofy as it was, when astronaut John Young snuck a corned beef sandwich into space aboard Gemini 3, it was genuinely dangerous enough to get him a stern, congressional talking-to. Who handed him the corned-beef sandwich pre-flight? That darned harmonica-honker himself, Wally Schirra. That rascal!
A Tiny Sculpture
For all the doodads above, it would be entirely reasonable for NASA to throw a shit-fit about the secret cargo. The item brought secretly aboard Apollo 15 and left on the moon, however, was one that it was hard to argue against without seeming like a bit of a sociopath. The crew brought aboard a tiny aluminum statue and plaque commemorating the astronauts who had died before them, which they left on the moon. A lovely gesture, and one that, thank god, didn’t end in an incredibly ironic disaster for the astronauts in question.
Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts.