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by Ian Fortey
There comes a point in every kid's life when they're pretty sure they want to be an astronaut for a living, because space is almost as awesome as dinosaurs and no one is hiring raptors anymore. There's something super cool about astronauts; a combination of the exclusivity of going to space, the heroic and adventurous nature of exploring the one place most of us will never see, and the potential to maybe one day seduce an alien. But being an astronaut isn't all booster rockets and peeing in a vacuum. Weirdness abounds even for space folk.
There Was Once A Mutiny Aboard The Skylab Space Station
Remember Skylab? Probably not, it was a space station from 1973 to 1976 which, according to the laws of internet time, was literally forever ago. But when it was a thing, it was a big deal. Astronauts who went to Skylab were on the longest missions to space in history at that point. Some of them spent nearly 3 months up there. Keep in mind, this being the 1970s, it both looked and felt terrible.
The Skylab astronauts were being worked to the bone, pulling 16-hour days doing the kind of stuff NASA expects you to do in space for 16 hours a day. So maybe watching soy beans grow and doctoring photos of the flat Earth so they look round. Science stuff. They were constantly behind schedule due to the demands of the research, and after about two months, they'd had enough. NASA was expecting them to skip meals in order to work, to skip break periods, and put off sleep. They registered complaints with Ground Control and were basically told to suck it up, buttercup. This is space and there are no days off in space.
The crew of Skylab took a day off. This day off was not sanctioned in any way, but -- this is a key point in the power play between the guys in charge on the ground and astronauts in space -- when you're in space, you are the boss. No one was going to come and make them work. They literally shut down radio communication with Earth and spent a day goofing off.
"Ok, now everyone say, 'Suck it, NASA!'"
The strike forced NASA to compromise on tasks on the space station. They agreed not to harass the astronauts during meals and rest periods, and gave them a list of tasks they could choose from, rather than tasks they were forced to be doing. None of those astronauts ever went into space again as a result, but it's entirely possible none of them felt too bad about that, either.
Astronauts Couldn't Get Insurance, So They Had To Get Creative
There are a lot of stories out there of unusual celebrity insurance policies. Word is Heidi Klum had her legs insured for $2 million because she is a level 110 Paladin Stander with a +10 to verticality. She really needs legs, more so than you and me. You would think then that an astronaut -- a person who has to sit on a can of several tons of jet fuel to be exploded with enough force to actually leave a planet and head into a cold, merciless, endless vacuum of death -- might need some half decent insurance, too. But insurance companies didn't agree. Insuring someone heading toward the place Predators come from is just foolish, and would have cost a fortune. So back when the Apollo astronauts were making history and boldly going where no one had gone before, they were flying with a pocket full of hope and jack else.
Knowing that going to the moon was about the craziest endeavor in human history, the Apollo astronauts did have a backup plan. You don't get to go to space for being a dummy, after all. If no insurance could be procured for their families in the event of tragedy, they would make their own insurance. The astronauts signed what they called "covers"; envelopes that would be post-marked on significant days.
"The weather is nonexistent. Wish you were here."
The day of the launch and the day of the moon landing were two big dates in the Apollo program. A friend who had been given hundreds of these covers, post marked the envelopes on those important days and then gave them to the families of the astronauts. That created a living piece of incredibly rare history. And you have to remember, these astronauts were rock stars back then. The first humans to ever set foot on the moon? That was a huge deal.
The families of the astronauts could, if need be, sell the covers to collectors and be financially secure. When these things started showing up with collectors in the 1990s, they were going for $30,000 each. So someone who had hundreds of these was effectively rich. Sometimes the best insurance is just being awesome.
People Will Steal Your Spaceman Hair
If you head to eBay right now, and it probably doesn't even matter when you're reading this because it will likely always be relevant, you can find listings for Elvis Presley's hair. People sell Elvis' hair. Lots of people do. Which means it's possible, maybe even likely, that lots of people buy Elvis Presley's hair. Now, keeping in mind that your average astronaut is like a rock star, and that people buy rock star hair, you have an understanding of the lawsuit Neil Armstrong was a part of. Over his own hair.
Armstrong was the kind of guy who liked going to the same barber (Marx Sizemore) to get a trim. One day, however, another customer wandered into Sizemore's shop, and the two got to talking. This new customer was a dealer in celebrity memorabilia and, upon learning that Neil Armstrong got his hair cut there, made the barber an offer. If he could get some of Armstrong's hair, there was $3000 in it for Marx.
Those were his pre-mullet and rat-tail days.
Sizemore sold hair clippings from the first man on the moon because sure, why not? The hair found its way to a guy who claims to have the world's largest collection of celebrity hair, including some from Napoleon and Marilyn Monroe, because everyone needs a hobby. But when Neil Armstrong found out, he was not a happy camper.
Lawyers representing Armstrong sent notice to Sizemore that he needed to either get the hair back or donate his profits to charity. There's a law in Ohio protecting the privacy of celebrities, and this seemed to be in violation of that law. Sizemore couldn't get the hair back but did agree to give money to charity, and Neil Armstrong likely spent the rest of his days awkwardly trimming his own hair in the mirror with a stern scowl on his face.
Japanese Astronauts Need To Be Origami Masters
Japanese culture is pretty awesome and has been for a long time. These are the people who gave us samurai, sushi, Godzilla, anime and Akira Kurosawa. There's a lot to admire about Japan, and that extends into their space program. Koichi Wakata, the first Japanese astronaut in space, has spent over 11 months up there. He even took a robot astronaut up once. And he probably had to fold paper cranes to do it.
No, really. The Japanese Space Agency devised a test for prospective astronauts, one so effective it was picked up in Europe and used to test international prospects. You have to fold origami. 1,000 paper cranes, in fact.
"Uh ... Jim? We noticed yours has fully functioning laser eyes. We need to talk."
What's the point of folding cranes? Japanese tradition says it will bring health and long life. From a science perspective, no one gives a squirt. However, the test is important for astronauts. How does crane number 5 look compared to crane 995? If the work becomes sloppy and unsatisfactory, it shows that the potential astronaut loses focus and maybe can't handle stress and pressure. They're looking for "deterioration of accuracy." If you can't handle the delicate work, you can't really be trusted with a flying can surrounded by the vacuum of space on all sides.
Some Astronauts Forget Gravity Is A Thing
Gennady Padalka has spent more time in space than any other living thing. He's clocked 879 days up there, which means if anyone is likely to shoot a chest burster out over breakfast one day, it's him. It also means he's probably suffered more side effects of being in space than anyone else in the world. And it's not just physical side effects like muscle weakness that long-term astronauts have to deal with. There's a psychological toll to being weightless all day every day for extended periods of time. Like maybe you forget how gravity works.
Readapting to life back on Earth takes time. Gravity plays with your equilibrium in ways you wouldn't expect if you've spent the last few months in a place where it's literally impossible to fall down. Astronauts have had issues with falling over after closing their eyes because their sense of balance did not return to Earth with them.
"Man, that's the 5th one this year."
Likely the weirdest side effect reported by cosmonauts who have spent a ton of time in space is forgetfulness. Not that they can't remember specific events, just that they forget gravity exists. Cosmonauts have said they will find themselves, months after returning to earth, letting go of something like a cup, forgetting that it won't just float free in space. You can assume there have been a lot of collateral messes on cosmonaut floors thanks to gravity refusing to let go. Whether any astronauts have used this affectation as a passive-aggressive prank is unknown, but it'd be a decent excuse for causing a scene.
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