Space smuggling may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but despite the relatively short history of human space flight, people have been sneaking things into space since more or less the beginning. New Atlas takes a look at five of the strangest things to be secreted aboard spaceships… that we know of.
1. A corned beef sandwich
It's 1965. Humans space flight is still in relative infancy. Astronaut John Young, soon to blast off as pilot aboard Gemini 3 to complete three low Earth orbits, has secreted a corned beef sandwich in a pocket of his spacesuit.
A few hours later, the spacecraft in orbit, Young produces the sandwich to share with Command Pilot Gus Grissom, a fan of corned beef. According to the logs, the conversation goes like this:
Grissom: What is it?
Young: Corn beef sandwich.
Grissom: Where did that come from?
Young: I brought it with me. Let's see how it tastes. Smells, doesn't it?
Grissom: Yes, it's breaking up. I'm going to stick it in my pocket.
Young: Is it? It was a thought, anways.
Grissom: Yep. Young: Not a very good one.
Grissom: Pretty good, though, if it would just hold together.
Young: Want some chicken leg?
"John's deadpan offer of this strictly non-regulation goodie remains one of the highlights of our flight for me," Grissom later told the Miami News. But the upper echelons at NASA were far from impressed. "After the flight [they] let us know in no uncertain terms that non-man-rated corned beef sandwiches were out for future space missions."
2. A harmonica
Later that same year, astronaut Wally Schirra became the first human to play a musical instrument in space, an advent rendition of Jingle Bells from Gemini 6, preserved for posterity in this haunting recording:
(And thereby besting Chris Hadfield's admittedly more polished rendition of Space Oddity by some 48 years.)
Schirra was clearly in jovial mood, the mission having successfully achieved the first manned rendezvous with another spacecraft – Gemini 7.
The harmonica itself is said to have been smuggled aboard by Schirra, who also claimed to have snaked both Scotch and cigarettes into Gemini missions. It now resides at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
3. Random number tables
So far, so sensible. But by the Apollo 14 mission in January 1971, the short history of human space smuggling took a turn for the stranger. Astronaut Edgar Mitchell brought aboard random number tables to assist with unsanctioned experiments into extrasensory perception (ESP).
Mitchell's experiments involved no one else aboard Apollo 14, but instead involved Mitchell "transmitting" to participants back on Earth — notably including the Swede Olof Jonsson.
"The well-known experiment in the laboratory was to use cards with the five Zener symbols," Mitchell told Cabinet Magazine. "But the actual cards aren't important. It was easier for me to use random number tables than carry the physical cards. Instead, all I did was to generate four tables of 25 random numbers just using the numbers 1 to 5. Then I randomly assigned a Zener symbol to each number. For each transmission, I would then check the particular table of random numbers and think about the corresponding symbol for 15 seconds."
Other than those involved, few who have written about the experiments deem them a success.
Source: Cabinet Magazine
A work of art
Perhaps the most famous case of extra terrestrial smuggling is that of the Fallen Astronaut, a 3.3-in (8.5-cm) aluminum sculpture by artist Paul Van Hoeydonck, free for anyone to view provided they can get themselves to the Hadley Rille on the Moon.
The work, which depicts an astronaut, was commissioned in secret by the crew of Apollo 15. It was smuggled to the moon, and placed there by mission commander Dave Scott, while crew-mate James Irwin kept Mission Control distracted in conversation.
It was placed along with a plaque bearing the names of some of those who had died contributing to human space exploration. However, according to the artist, the Fallen Astronaut was intended to represent humanity as a whole.
Though NASA originally knew nothing of the endeavor, they would later successfully challenge Van Hoeydonck's attempt to commercialize the work by selling replicas. He subsequently donated a copy to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
5. Softcore porn
The first crew of Apollo 12 (composed entirely of Navy personnel) found themselves on the receiving end of a slightly risqué practical joke from the mission's backup crew (all from the Air Force) — and at a crucial moment.
"It wasn't until we actually got out on the lunar surface and were well into our first moon walk that I found them," Mission commander Pete Conrad told Playboy magazine. The "them" being pictures of Playboy Playmates the backup crew had snuck into the astronauts' checklists the crew wore on their wrists during extra-vehicular activities.
These were accompanied by captions such as "Seen any interesting hills & valleys?" and "Don't forget – describe the protruberances". Quite.