Encyclopedia Astronautica
Spaced Out


Spaceflight is dangerous and unforgiving, which is all the more reason for the astronauts to seek relief in humour...


Spaced Out


  • Apollo 10. The astronauts swore a blue streak when their lunar module went out of control. More expletives followed in their enthusiastic descriptions of the lunar surface. When they returned, a banner awaited them: "THE FLIGHT OF APOLLO 10 - FOR ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY"
  • Apollo 17. Cernan asked Evans' wife on advice on how to wake the deep sleeper. "All I do is give him a kiss", she replied. Cernan reported that after eight days of flight "he did start to get pretty good-lucking". The last words on the moon came from Cernan: "OK, let's get this mother out of here".
  • Vostok 2. Before launch, cosmonauts in the launch bunker reminded Titov not to get his parachute lines tangled after ejection from the spacecraft, as had happened during training, or "they would be forced to expell him from the cosmonaut corps".
  • STS-8. The crew had an alternate mission patch that showed the bespectacled eyes of Dr Thornton peering at four scared pop-eyes. This represented Thornton's quest for blood samples from the other crew members...
  • Vostok 1. To prevent Gagarin from assuming manual control, the stick was locked - the code to unlock in a sealed envelope.
  • Apollo 8. Three miniature bottles of brandy were included for the crew's Christmas day dinner, leading to Lovell's unique and otherwise inexplicable thanks to the chef for the meal... told that a ground controller's son had asked who was driving the capsule, Anders replied '...I think Isaac Newton is doing most of the driving now'...following the crew's Christmas-eve reading of Genesis from lunar orbit, a Japanese correspondent found a Gideon Bible in his hotel room and reported 'NASA Public Affairs is very efficient - they had a mission transcript waiting in my hotel room...'
  • Soyuz 5. The active spacecraft was equipped with a long docking probe, designated 'Shtir'. Thetarget spacecraft was equipped with the 'Konus' receptacle. Volynov radioed that he 'was being raped' when the hard docking was accomplished.
  • STS-36. One of the few unclassified experiments involved a head phantom - a human skull , covered with plastic muscle and skin, loaded with dosimeters to attempt to measure radiation penetrating the human brain during an orbital spaceflight. The crew played around with the head, attaching it to a sleeping bag and scaring the wits out of the busy pilot, placing it emerging from the toilet. Due to the classified mission, the joke pictures of this phantom in various positions were just about the only film available for public release - and NASA squelched that, for fear it would make it look like they were spending billions so some wiseacre astronauts could joke around.

    NASA was conducting an experiment called the Bowel Sound Monitor to record the gurgles of the astronaut's digestive tract before launch and during the adjustment to zero-G. It was the unfortunate duty of one Air Force officer to have to listen to these tapes in their entirety to make sure no classified information had been recorded before they could be released to the doctors.

  • Voskhod 1. Khrushchev was removed from power while the crew was in flight - the crew was cryptically informed that 'there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy...'
  • STS-88. The crew called themselves 'Dog Crew 3', two of them having flown on previous 'Dog Crews'. But since the mission was very high profile as the first ISS assembly mission, the crew chose a 'Stealth Dog' motif for their alternate patch. The crew's nicknames were: Mighty Dog (Cabana), Devil Dog (Sturckow), Hooch (Ross), Laika (Currie), Pluto (Newman), Spotnik (Krikalev).
  • Vostok 4. Popovich was given the code phrase 'observing thunderstorms' to be used if he felt severe motion sickness and needed to return on the next opportunity. Unfortunately he actually did report seeing thunderstorms over the Gulf of Mexico, and ground control took this as a request for an early return, causing a scramble before the misunderstanding was cleared up.
  • Apollo 11. In college, a friend asked Armstrong if he wanted to be the first man on the moon - "No," he answered, "I want to be the first man to come back from the moon"... Collins was asked at a news conference what the most dangerous part of the mission would be. "The part which we have overlooked in our preparations", he replied. It was quite a comedown for the heroes to return to earth and then be put in quarantine in a sealed trailer due to worries about lunar germs. The feeling was accentuated when entered the trailer and were greeted with the sign: PLEASE DON'T FEED THE ANIMALS.
  • STS-77. The crew assumed nicknames of mythological beings and became known as the 'God Crew'. The joke originated because astronaut Garneau had flown in 1984 which the others joked 'must have been back in Apollo days'. The gods were: Zeus (Casper), Saturn (Brown), Thor (Thomas), Neptune (Runco), Burch (Pan), Garneau (Apollo).
  • STS-41-G. An article was circulated in the astronaut office showing that female astronauts would be more vulnerable on long space missions as they aged since their natural tendency to lose bone mass would be accelerated. A female astronaut had annotated the article with the note "This is why women should be first in line to fly the shuttle". To which a male colleague responded "This is why NASA should hire younger women".
  • Skylab 3. When the crew entered the station, they were startled to find three occupants already there - the previous crew had made dummies of themselves and left them posed on the exercise bicycle, medical station, and toilet...The crew patch was da Vinci's 'universal man', retouched to remove the genitalia. The wives of the crew secretly had an alternate graphic made of a 'universal woman' with their names in place of the crew's. Stickers with this on them were put in lockers aboard Skylab, to surprise the crew after their arrival.
  • Apollo 7. The crew used hand-lettered signs for the first American television program from space ('From the lovely Apollo Room high atop everything'; 'Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks', and, for Deke Slayton on the ground, 'Are you a turtle?' (a gotcha on Slayton after the reverse trick on Schirra's Mercury flight).
  • STS-51-G. The Frog and the Prince mission, so called for its inclusion of French and Saudi payload specialists. Prince Al-Saud, had one experiment where the Prince wanted to observe the new moon from space at the beginning of the month of Ramadan. NASA gave the experiment an acronym (Lunar Crescent Observation, LCO), evidently unaware of its religious significance. Only when the mission commander pointed out the storm of protest that would result when the Prince announced the beginning of Ramadan from space, as the first Muslim to sight the crescent moon, did NASA clamp down. The observation went ahead, but the Prince was not allowed to make any public announcements concerning it during the flight. On the same flight the crew was asked not to dress in usual shorts, for fear pictures of the female crewmember's naked legs would offend Saudi sensibilities.
  • Apollo 9. After jettison of the lunar module, one of the astronauts mentioned to ground control that they hoped they hadn't left anything aboard it. Ground control asked if that meant they hoped they hadn't left the LM pilot aboard. McDivitt replied "I didn't forget him -- I left him there on purpose..."
  • Mercury MR-4. Prior to Grissom's 15 minute flight, engineer Sam Beddingfield gave him a crossword puzzle...' since the flight load has been reduced, we didn't want you to get bored'...since the capsule had been named 'Liberty Bell', engineers painted a crack on it...after it sank in the Atlantic, it was agreed they would never do that again...
  • STS-1. John Young, on the being the first astronaut in history to fly a spacecraft on its first flight (no prior unmanned tests): "God watches out for babies, drunks, and astronauts".

    Instructions printed on the mounting fixtures of the shuttle carrier aircraft: "PLACE ORBITER HERE... BLACK SIDE DOWN"

  • STS-73. The crew called themselves the 'Cat Crew' in response to the 'Dog Crews'. They were designing a cat-themed patch when NASA said enough was enough and quashed the plans.
  • STS-70. The flight, much ballyhooed by NASA as the 100th American manned space flight, was delayed because woodpeckers found the foam of the External Tank attractive for knocking holes into. The insulation was so damaged that the booster was returned to the VAB for repairs. An alternate crew patch celebrated the event by adding Woody Woodpecker to the original design.
  • STS-53. This was the last Defense Department manned space mission. The crew called themselves the 'Dogs of War', since they were commanded by 'Red Dog' Walker.
  • STS-41-C. The mission was originally numbered STS-13. The crew's alternate patch flaunted the 'Apollo 13 curse' by showing a black cat, the number 13 and a Shuttle flying from underneath the cat. The crew nicknames were listed: Crip, Dick, TJ, Ox, Pinky.
  • Gemini 9. There was a lot of controversy about astronaut Cooper's claimed ability to see with the naked eye objects such as automobiles and houses from space...during his spacewalk, Cernan radioed to his crewmate 'Hey Tom, what's that guy doing with a Texas license plate on a California freeway'...The crew splashed down in site of the recovery ship, to which ground control commented 'prety close for government work'.
  • Apollo 15. Prior to leaving the lunar surface, Scott performed a simple experiment that Galileo had proposed three hundred years earlier - he dropped a hammer and falcon feather at the same time, and on the airless moon they hit the ground at the same moment. "How about that - Mr Galileo was correct"
  • Skylab 2. On day 45 of the flight, ground control was startled when a female voice replied to their call. The mystified capcom continued the conversation for some time before realising that Garriot had pre-recorded a dialogue with his wife before the mission...after the flight, while shaving on earth, Lousma absentmindedly let go of his shaver, expecting it to float as he was used to...
  • Gemini 6. During the first space rendezvous, Lovell in Gemini 7 asked 'how's the visibility?'...'pretty bad, I can see through the window and see you fellows inside...' replied Schirra in Gemini 6...later Schirra held up a sign to his window: 'Beat Army', for the benefit of Gemini 7 commander and West Point graduate Borman...
  • Mercury MA-8. Deke Slayton tries to trip Schirra up with 'Are you a turtle today?' on open comm (the reply must be 'you bet your sweet ass I am') - Over Ecuador, the controller insists that Schirra say:. 'Buenas dias, or something like that back to them?' -- to which Schirra replies: 'Buenas dias you-all'.
  • Mercury MA-9. At the roll-out of his Atlas booster, Cooper wrote on its side: "Launch this way ==>" During the flight a red warning light came on, indicating the capsule was prematurely re-entering the atmospere. Cooper finally disconnected it so he wouldn't have to see it any more.
  • Mercury MA-7. "There was a large flaming piece coming off. Almost looked like it came off the tower....Oooo, I hope not". (in imitation of Bill Dana's comedy routine).
  • STS-27. The crew was an 'Arrested Development' group of military pilots who snorted whenever a good-looking woman came in view. The crew was dubbed Swine Flight by NASA secretaries and given Halloween pig snouts to wear.

    Prior to this first in a series of military missions, the Air Force and Navy decided to send their astronauts on a tour of military facilities, back in uniform, to receive classified briefings on military space programs. The services called this process "re-bluing". A NASA civilian astronaut angrily asked "What is NASA going to do for us civilians?" A pilot astronaut replied "You're going to get re-nerded".

    On STS-27, in discussing the LES survival suits that were supposed to protect the crew in case they had to bail out into the cold north Atlantic, commander Gibson said: "Hell, the fall is going to kill you anyway" (a line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

  • Mercury MR-3. On 'putting on' the cramped Mercury capsule, Shepard was greeted with a sign placed by John Glenn: 'No handball playing in this area'...while waiting for liftoff, Shepard glanced around the cabin and was struck with the thought..'all of this was built by the lowest bidder'...in a press conference after the flight, Glenn noted that Shepard, who's suborbital lob came between the flight of the chimpanzee Enos and Glenn's pending orbital flight, represented the 'missing link between ape and man'...Shepard received $14.38 in Navy flight pay for his fifteen minutes aloft.
  • STS-29. In an attempt to curry favor with astronaut selector George Abbey, Bagian, wearing a Superman costume, was lowered by another astronaut from the roof down to Abbey's ninth floor office. He knocked on the window, sang Happy Birthday, then continued to the ground.
  • Gemini 3. Grissom insisted on naming his spacecraft the 'Molly Brown', following the loss at sea of his first capsule and the Broadway success of the musical 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown'... it was the last time NASA allowed an astronaut to name his spacecraft for a long, long time...Young took a corned-beef sandwich into orbit, as alternative to the dehydrated space 'food' they were supposed to test...this was only discovered when bread crumbs were observed in the capsule during postflight analysis. Absurd Congressional uproar almost ended his career.
  • Gemini 11. Conrad was determined to remove all unnecessary equipment from the cramped cockpit before the flight. Once in orbit, he found a cartoon in his flight manual showing Gordon standing in the open hatch of the capsule with the entire instrument panel and saying "Pete, are you sure we don't need this anymore?"
  • Gemini 5. An accident with freeze dried shrimp resulted in the cabin being filled with little pink subsatellites.
  • Mercury MA-6. Glenn's launch was scrubbed ten times before it finally went aloft, leading to numerous jokes...during one week when not only Glenn, but a half-dozen other launches were postponed or exploded, a report came in that a '...man drew a pistol and killed his estranged barmaid wife...' in a Coco Beach nightclub, and that it was '...the only successful shot of the week'...as Glenn rode the elevator for yet another attempt, the annoucement came through of one of the ground crew's wife had given birth...'at least someone was launched today' quipped one of the launch team...in the ground debriefing, as Glenn described to disbelieving NASA staff the 'fireflies' he was so entranced with, a psychiatrist asked 'What did they say, John?'....Glenn received $245 in Marine Corps flight pay for his flight...When Glenn went to the White House and was introduced by the President to nine year old Caroline Kennedy, her first question was 'where's the monkey?'
  • STS-26. Dubbed the 'Quiche Mission' because it involved release of a single satellite and little else. Unable to bear the publicity the crew was getting, and encouraging, about their brave and valiant mission, other astronauts swallowed helium at a reception for the Apollo astronauts and pranced through the room, squeaking in Donald Duck helium voices "Hi there, I'm Rick Hauck, commander of STS-26. Would you like my autograph".
  • STS-69. Commander Walker decided to continue the Dog Theme of his previous mission and dubbed his astronauts 'Dog Crew 2'. They were: Red Dog (Walker), Cujo (Cockrell), Dogface (Voss), Pluto (Newman) and Underdog (Gernhardt). The crew wore the alternate patch on their mission and ate from dog bowls for their pre-flight breakfast. Dog-related tunes were used as wake-up calls during the mission.
  • Gemini 4. At the preflight press conference: "Have you selected a name for the spacecraft? - "I don't know, what's playing on Broadway these days?" (a reference to Grissom's Molly Bronw) -- McDivitt: "There is only enough [food aboard] for two normal people for four days" - Lovell: 'And these two aren't normal'...on the planned stand-up EVA: White: '..I am the standee and he is the holdee'...during the spacewalk: 'you smeared up my windshield, you dirty dog'...
  • STS-9. Young, on STS-9, when two of Columbia's computers had failed in orbit, meaning the astronauts might be stranded in space "This is what they pay us the big bucks for" (at that time he was earning $70,000 a year from NASA).
  • STS-51-B. Spacelab flight with herpes-infected monkeys and a US Marine on board, which led to no end of crude astronaut humor. The medical experiments led to the joke "Why do Spacelab missions require a crew of six? Because it takes five astronauts to hold down the experiment victim".
  • Apollo 12. For their telecast the crew put on beanies with propellers, advising viewers that they used the propellers to get around in zero-G... Noting that their checklist said the astronauts were to conduct 'housekeeping chores', Gordon advised ground control they couldn't find a housekeeper... on becoming the second commander to set foot on the moon, the height-challenged Conrad intoned: "That may have been a small step for Neil, but it was a long one for me"... The moon landers' space suits were so grimy with lunar soil that the command pilot refused to let them enter the capsule. Accordingly they stripped stark naked and floated into the capsule with only their headsets...
  • Gemini 8. All television networks cancelled their regular programs to cover the emergency recovery of the spacecraft in the mid-Pacific. With no prepared graphics aids, they were reduced to pushing toy ships around empty studios for hours... the result was a deluge of complaints that Batman and, ironically Lost in Space were not being aired...
  • STS-34. Hammond was the 'Caped Crusadar' (head of the close-out team). On launch day, "...as he crawled through the flight deck checking and double-checking the crew's checklists, he thought to take out his Maggot stamp. This was a rubber stamp astronaut Marsha Ivins had designed for each of the members of the class of 1984; it featured the Maggot logo, a Space Shuttle whose payload bay had been replaced with a garbage can swimming with little maggots in space suits..." He proceeded to maggot-stamp the checklists...
  • Apollo 16. Duke had been hypnotized to keep him from using his customary cuss words while being broadcast live from the moon, which led to his constant singing to compensate... Tang, orange-drink sponsor of CBS coverage of the mission, was not pleased when Young confided to a crewmate, not knowing that his words were being broadcast live: "I got the farts again... I mean, I haven't eaten this much citrus fruit in twenty years...in another twelve f***ing days, I ain't never eating any more...I'll be damned if I'm goint to be buried in oranges.." -- Ground Control, seeing the dust-covered astronauts on the surface, quipped 'my kids don't get as dirty as you are' -- the reply: 'Yeah, but I bet they're not having as much fun, either'.
  • STS-30. Better dead than look bad - the astronaut credo.
  • Apollo 13. Haise found he could scare the dickens out of the other crew members by actuating a lunar module relief valve, which made a loud bang. When the fuel cell tank exploded, taking out the whole side of the service module, the two first looked accusingly at him, thinking it was another of his jokes... the Apollo 13 accident happened on April 13 and lift-off had occurred two days earlier at 13:13 Houston time - so when Lovell began the post-flight press conference, his first words: "I am not a superstitious person"...
  • Gemini 7. A just-used urine collection bag split open early in the mission. The crew never managed to collect all the floating globules. When asked to describe the record flight later, Lovell described it as '...two weeks in the Men's Room'.
  • Gemini 12. As the crew walked toward the spacecraft for the last Gemini mission, they wore seperate signs on their back - 'The' + 'End'.
  • STS-51-F. The "Cola-War" flight where NASA ended up flying zero-G versions of both Coke and Pepsi. This became such an issue that astronaut chief returned from a meeting saying "I sure hope they're spending as much time worrying about the things that could kill us as they are worrying about these damn soft drinks". Coke ended up being the first cola drunk in space, but the experiment mainly proved that warm soft drink is not enjoyable, whether in zero- or one-G (the space shuttle had no refrigerator).
  • Apollo 14. A joke patch was made for the mission using the cartoon characters Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner. The prime crew was symbolised by the coyote, who had red fur like Roosa, a pot belly like exercise-adverse Mitchell, and a grey beard like Shepard. Copies of the patch were hidden throughout the spacecraft and wound up on the moon... Shepard took a golf club head and ball to the moon, in order to be the first man to golf on the lunar surface. It took three one-armed swings in his clumsy suit before he drove the ball a short distance...
  • Gemini 10. ..a foreign substance in the spacesuit oxygen loop caused the astronaut's eyes to water for a good part of the mission..Young said, '...I was crying a little all night, but I didn't say anything about it...I figured I'd be called a sissy...' An engineer pasted Playboy pin-ups on the backs of the window covers. This wasn't discovered until the astronauts covered the windows for their first resting period in orbit. The Playmates threatened to show up at the post-flight press conference, but were finally dissuaded...

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