5 Hilarious Pranks Pulled Off in Space
I feel like people are far too serious when they talk about space. Some unblinking scientist is always planted in a fancy chair, pontificating on the vastness of the unknown: “We’re insignificant dust, circling a dying star.” Yeesh, my guy, who took a crap in your ice cream? Sure, it’s existentially spooky, but it’s important not to forget one of the most important parts of the human experience, even if you’re out in the airless vacuum of the great beyond — doing dumb shit for fun.
Here are five great pranks pulled off outside of Earth’s atmosphere…
Corned Beef Space Sandwich
The food that astronauts bring into space is very tightly controlled, and very tightly packaged. Firing off into zero gravity with a fully-stocked pantry is not exactly feasible, both in issues of storage space and not clogging your instruments with smoked paprika. A less than ideal dinner menu is the price you pay for, you know, being one of the few humans to ever experience outer space.
In simpler terms, brown-bag lunches aren’t allowed on this particular field trip. At least one non-NASA approved meal has made it off Earth, though, specifically a corned-beef sandwich. Astronaut John Young snuck one aboard the Gemini III mission, offering it to Commander Gus Grissom mid-flight. Given that crumbs are a big problem in a spaceship and corned-beef sandwich debris is hard to contain in the best of times, he was rewarded with a stern mission control talking-to.
Wife Drops By the Outer-Space Office
Every facet of a space mission is carefully calculated and planned for, given the danger involved. For example, when NASA decides how many people are going into space on a given mission? That’s a hard number. No plus-ones allowed, in any circumstance. By NASA’s notes, there should have been only three occupants, all male, aboard the Skylab in 1963. So when ground control got a call from a female voice onboard, questions abounded.
They asked who it was, and the voice responded “Helen Garriott,” who was astronaut Owen Garriott’s non-astronaut and earthbound wife. She further explained she’d stopped by to deliver a home-cooked meal before signing off, saying she wasn’t supposed to be talking to them. She never actually performed this interstellar DoorDash, of course. Owen had planned the prank, recording her voice, complete with pauses, responding to what he figured would be Houston’s most likely responses.
It’s not like apes and space are an unprecedented combination. For a while there, it felt like we were firing chimps off into the big dark willy-nilly. But two things that set those poor, opposable-thumbed souls apart from the ape we’re about to discuss is that they weren’t on missions with humans, and everybody knew they were there. Suddenly happening upon a gorilla in the halls of a space station unannounced is not covered in any part of the astronaut guidebook.
So British astronaut Tim Peake was understandably, highly confused and possibly in a wetter spacesuit when a gorilla climbed out of a container aboard the International Space Station. The gorilla in question was astronaut Scott Kelly in a suit that had been sent up to him by his brother Mark, and all was resolved happily after a brief chase. He’s just lucky we’re not at the point where we’re sending people up with ray guns yet.
Folklore and science are not usually the best of buds. One is adamant that what you hear is the pounding of great Norse goat hooves; the other is calmly, and dully, explaining thunder. It doesn’t help that the two are almost always required to be at odds, given the space they occupy. For at least one prank, however, the concept of outer space and the tale of Santa Claus were pitched as equally feasible.
Wally Schirra and Thomas Stafford, astronauts on the Gemini 6 mission, made an unusual report on December 16, 1965. They reported spotting an unidentified flying object that, in fact, was pretty easy to identify if you’d ever been to a mall in December — piloted, of course, by a jolly man wearing a red suit. They then launched into a rendition of “Jingle Bells” on sleigh bells and mini-harmonica, two instruments that, by virtue of this prank, are the first musical instruments ever played in space.
A Different Kind of Moon
Looking at porn at work is generally frowned upon in pretty much any occupation that is not “professional pornography video editor.” It’s definitely, absolutely frowned upon at NASA. But that is precisely what two astronauts found themselves doing, without warning, while on the moon. This prank didn’t happen on some side-mission either, but smack-dab in the middle of Apollo 12. When astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean began to work through the many-paged checklists strapped to their wrists, they were both surprised to find shrunken Playboy centerfolds staring back at them, snuck into the meat of their mission instructions. Va-va-moon!
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.