Science & Health

The Weirdest Stuff We've Launched Into Space

The Weirdest Stuff We've Launched Into Space

From the minute we started sending humans into space, authorised and unauthorised paraphernalia have gone with them. Even unmanned spacecraft hauled oddities to the far reaches of our solar system. Here are a few items that have reached where most of us will never go.


The Weirdest Stuff We've Launched Into Space

When NASA sent Apollo 12 to the Moon in November 1969, the backup crew played a joke on the primary astronauts. After the Landing Module touched down on the Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms), Charles Conrad and Alan Bean took a walk on the lunar surface. When they opened their EVA checklists attached to their wrists, they were surprised to find Playboy centrefolds inserted with witty remarks.

Conrad’s cuff checklist had a spread of Angela Dorian (Miss September 1967) with the line “Seen any interesting hills & valleys?” written beneath it. On another page, Reagan Wilson (Miss October 1967) was displayed as a “Preferred tether partner.” Bean’s cuff checklist had Cynthia Myers (Miss December 1968) and “Don’t forget — describe the protuberances” on one page. On another was Leslie Bianchini (Miss January 1969) and “Survey her activity.”

Back up in the orbiting command module, Richard Gordon was surprised to find a playmate — DeDe Lind (Miss August 1967) — taped to his locker with the label “Map of a Heavenly Body” attached.

Luke’s Lightsaber

The Weirdest Stuff We've Launched Into Space

Some paraphernalia were taken into orbit for no reason other than to say it was in space. During the shuttle program, each mission carried an Official Flight Kit (OFK) where personal items were stowed for the flight. The items were often chosen so they could be later given out as gifts.

As an example, when the shuttle Discovery lifted off in October 2007 for a two-week mission to the ISS, it carried 102 items in its OFK. Seventy-six of those items belonged to crewmembers. Each crewmember is allowed about 1 kilogram (2 lb) of paraphernalia in the OFK.

Flight Commander Pam Melroy had banners from her nephew’s school district and her college alma mater placed in the OFK. Mission Specialist Doug Wheeler, who had befriended childhood hero Bobby Murcer after the former New York Yankee was diagnosed with a brain tumour, had placed Murcer’s jersey and baseball card in the OFK, planning to give them to Murcer as gifts.

Some crewmembers took mementos to thank places and organisations that had helped them attain a seat on the shuttle. Things like patches, flags, medallions, pins, photos, and posters were handed out after the flight. NASA and its contractors, too, pack presentation gifts such as patches, pins, bookmarks, banners, and even a copy of the Italian Constitution.

One item placed in the STS-120’s OFK was the lightsaber prop used by Luke Skywalker inReturn of the Jedi. George Lucas asked for it to be taken into space in honour of the 30th anniversary release of his Star Wars: A New Hope.

The lightsaber spent the entire flight in its Styrofoam box. Almost all the items in the OFK never leave their storage spot in the OFK during the mission.

Product Promotions

The Weirdest Stuff We've Launched Into Space

Photo credit: Smithsonian

Spaceflight has long had an uneasy partnership with advertising. NASA gave Lifemagazine exclusive access to the original Mercury 7 astronauts and their wives. Lifechurned out articles and even a few books depicting the astronauts and their families as average, middle-class Americans. In exchange, the magazine provided the astronauts with huge life insurance policies.

When Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in July 1969, 94 per cent of American televisions were tuned in. That was advertising exposure no company could pass up. Every contractor that had anything to do with sending Apollo 11 on its lunar excursion developed elaborate press kits with the flight’s logo emblazoned on the cover. Tang became the drink for “spacemen and Earth families.” Omega Watches became the watch astronauts wore on the Moon.

Then Coke got into the act when they spent $US250,000 to develop a can that would dispense Coca-Cola in zero gravity. The company even changed their formula to make the beverage easier to drink because carbonated drinks are difficult to keep in the stomach at zero gravity. When Pepsi got wind that NASA had agreed to send the Coke dispenser up on a shuttle, they spent $US14 million to develop a “space can” of their own.

Thus began the “Cola Wars in Space” that even lassoed proponents in Congress into the debate. Coke suddenly became the preferred drink of Democrats, while Pepsi found favour with the Republicans.

Finally, the Challenger shuttle was sent into orbit in 1985 with four cans of each cola. The five-person crew tested the drinks out and hated both brands. That didn’t stop Pepsi from launching a media blitz, calling their product “one giant sip for mankind.”

Even the Russians got in on the act. In 2000, Pizza Hut launched a campaign to make their image more contemporary and international. That year, they sponsored the Russian space agency and plastered a 9m logo on the side of an unmanned Proton rocket delivering the Zvezda module to the ISS. The next year, they went one step further by delivering a 15cm(6 in) salami and cheese pizza to the ISS crew. Salami had to be used because pepperoni turned mouldy when Pizza Hut tested it in space. Cosmonaut Yuri Usachov microwaved the pie and toyed with it in zero gravity before he ate it. He gave it a thumbs-up.

A Secret Inside Joke

The Weirdest Stuff We've Launched Into Space

Photo credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX

In December 2010, the California-based company SpaceX launched their Dragon unmanned spacecraft. The capsule orbited Earth twice then safely splashed down 804km west of Mexico in the Pacific, becoming the first commercial spacecraft to successfully do so. It was a test flight of the robotic Dragon in preparation for 12 cargo flights SpaceX will carry to the International Space Station after the shuttle fleet retired in 2011.

The test flight’s only cargo was hidden in a drum bolted to the floor of the capsule with the words “Top Secret” and a spotted cow sporting galoshes imprinted on the lid. This was a reference to the 1984 comedy Top Secret. Rumours circulated about what might be inside, and once the Dragon lifted off, SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk dropped a hint: “If you like Monty Python, you’ll love the secret.” Many speculated that it was a can of Spam, a reference to “Spamalot” from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Once the Dragon had successfully splashed down, SpaceX released photos of large wheel of Gruyere cheese nestled inside the drum. It was a nod to a Python skit where John Cleese tries to order cheese at a cheese shop that has no cheese. Musk later said that he himself shopped for the cheese in Beverly Hills, purchasing the largest wheel he could find.


Beginning in 1986, all Soviet and Russian space missions carried a TP-82 barrelled pistol with them. It could shoot bullets or signal flares. Its detachable stock doubled as a machete. It was to be used not against suspected alien enemies but Siberian wolves or musk deer and was inspired by the disastrous Voskhod 2 mission.

In March 1965, Aleksey Leonov became the first human to perform an extra-vehicular activity (EVA), hovering in the vacuum outside the spacecraft. Leonov’s suit became over-pressurised, ballooning to such an extent that his feet were no longer in their boots, his hands no longer in their gloves. He could no longer reenter the spacecraft feet-first and had to wiggle inside head-first while bleeding pressure from his suit.

Things got worse when they tried to reenter Earth’s atmosphere. The automatic guidance system was not functioning properly, and the cosmonauts had to reenter manually. Worse, they had only enough fuel for one course correction. Their capsule parachuted them 1500km west of their intended landing site, deep in a thickly wooded Siberian forest. And it was mating season, when Siberian wolves and bears were at their most aggressive. They did have a pistol but had little else to survive in the wilderness. Fortunately, they were found just hours after landing and were rescued the next day, skiing 9km to a site clear enough for a helicopter extraction.

In 1968, a survival kit was developed for all Soviet space missions and included a Markov pistol. The Markov was replaced with the TP-82, and in 2006, the TP-82 was replaced with a semi-automatic pistol. And, yes, the automatics are still part of Russian survival kits, and that means the cosmonauts occupying ISS are indeed packing.

This article has been excerpted with permission from Listverse. To read in its entirety, head here.

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