Ridiculous History: 5 of NASA’s Greatest Pranks

Astronaut Dale A. Gardner holds up a ‘For Sale’ sign referring to the two satellites he and another astronaut retrieved from orbit after their Payload Assist Modules (PAM) failed to fire. NASA
On any successful space mission, the crew’s morale is at the top of the list of priorities. After all, the final frontier can be one high-stress workplace. So it’s no wonder that, in the 59 years since it was first established, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has seen a small army of passionate pranksters.

Now we’re not talking anything too serious of course. That could get dangerous on a NASA mission. These pranks are all relatively mild and silly, but still not necessarily what we’d expect from the crew of astronauts who were the first men to walk on the moon. But when your job consists of being launched into space at 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kilometers per hour), sometimes a little comedy to go with the cosmos isn’t a bad thing.

A six-legged squatter caused a bit of unrest in the days leading up to NASA’s Apollo 12 mission. Following a test run at the Kennedy Space Center, a cockroach was seen hiding out in the command module that was to function as the crew’s living space. (It would also deliver them back to Earth after re-entering the atmosphere.) Not wanting any insect stowaways on the vessel, launch director Bob Sieck used all sorts of tricks to try to capture the intruder. But to the amusement of many, his quarry eluded him.

Apollo 12 took off on Nov. 14, 1969, with three astronauts on board, including Commander Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr. Five days later, Conrad became the third man to ever walk on the moon. During the journey home, Conrad took part in an in-flight, televised press conference. As the broadcast wound down, he held up a strip of white cardboard. On its surface stood a black, teardrop-shaped object with some faintly visible antennae.

Thinking this was the long-lost roach, one of Conrad’s colleagues at NASA said, “You found him, huh?”

“We sure did,” replied the astronaut. “He was in the food locker.”

“Is he fat?” asked the colleague.

“He’s very fat,” Conrad answered.

Alas, it was all a practical joke. Conrad later admitted that the roach he showed off was just a plastic toy he’d smuggled aboard. To this day, the real bug’s fate remains unknown.

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