The Most Bizarre Objects NASA Has Sent Into Space



Space exploration is a funny old business. Since early humans gazed up at the sky, we’ve dreamed of exploring its awe-inspiring vastness. From the discovery of Haley’s Comet, to the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 (one of the most watched televised reports in the history of television), we are constantly looking up at the stars, wondering why we’re here and what’s out there.

As remarkable as the people at NASA are – experts in their field no doubt – they do sometimes have a strange habit of sending the most…unusual items into space. Here we’ve gathered fifteen of the most bizarre things sent into orbit. We would like to question NASA about their motives behind some of these, but then we remember that we’re not the experts here. We’re just going to have to roll with it.

Bonsai Tree

Yes, like most of you, we also thought that this was some botanical experiment to see the effects of plant life in outer space or how radiation can do…something or…whatever. Yeah, we’re just running with it. But no, as it turns out, this is actually an art project from Japanese artist Azumo Makoto.

As well as a bonsai tree, Makoto (along with NASA) sent up some orchids, lilies, irises and hydrangeas into the cold recesses of space. Why did they do it, we all collectively ask? For no reason other than to see what they would look like in zero gravity. It may seem a tad extreme and some of you may feel like this is time and resources that could be spent seeking out alien life form, but you have to admit it does look pretty. And if we do happen upon any extraterrestrial life, we have gifts to offer them.

Salmonella

This was something that was sent up not once, but twice. Yes, two separate shuttles carried with them samples of salmonella to be delivered to the International Space Station (ISS). Okay, we can kind of see what the thinking behind this was. Sending microbes and germs into space is usually done to see what the effects are in the hope of advancing our knowledge of medicine and doing the greater good for all of our species. Go science!

But then you realize the somewhat dark results that came from this. While trying to determine how low gravity would effect the bacteria, the study found it had actually become increasingly virulent. Nearly three times as virulent actually. Nice one guys. What was a seemingly harmful disease (but one we could ultimately cope with) has now become significantly more toxic. Which is good news for science, but bad news for the rest of us (and those poor lab mice). Boo science!

Tardigrade

Also known as the water bear, so-called because they spend the majority of their time on moist pieces of moss and – we guess – they sort of resemble a bear(?) We’re not one to question these things so we’ll just leave that to one side. We’re far from experts in these things.

These eight-legged micro-organisms are said to be able to withstand extreme temperatures. They have been known to survive anything from 300 degree heat to -328 degrees Fahrenheit.

With that in mind, we can see why the Tardigrade was sent up by NASA. They were exposed to the cold recesses of space for ten days while also being dehydrated. This sounds like a cruel experiment bordering on torture. However, they allegedly survived the procedure (some of which went on to produce offspring), leaving one enthusiast to excitedly declare that the 1mm length creatures must be of extraterrestrial origin. We can go with that.

Cremains

While it may seem strange to want to send your ashes into orbit, we can actually see the appeal. Barely any of us are intelligent enough to become an astronaut, and even fewer of us will be rich enough to afford our own manned mission to space. But thanks to a company called Celestis, we can have our remains blasted off the surface of the planet to remain in deep space for eternity.

We feel this is something that’s only going to increase in popularity over the years. From as little as $2,000 (hey, that’s pretty cheap when you think about it), anyone can have their remains sent out on a shuttle. People are already taking advantage of it, including the creator of Star Trek Gene Roddenberry and the actor who played Scotty, James Doohan. While two grand is enough to get our ashes sent up, it’ll cost around $12,000 to ensure they actually stay in space. It sounds like a lot of money, but we imagine it would be a great conversation starter at the wake.

Pizza Hut Pizza

We’re all familiar with the sting of trying to order a pizza from somewhere only to discover that we’re out of their delivery radius. However, for astronauts, this doesn’t appear to be an issue. Apparently a maximum three mile distance between the deliverer and the customer is non-existent while floating about in space. Yes, in 2001 famed pizza company Pizza Hut paid the Russian space program $1 million dollars to deliver a deep pan to cosmonaut Yuri Usachov.

You read that right. They paid to deliver a pizza! This occurred roughly one year after they became one of the first companies to advertise on the side of a space shuttle. And because we know you’re all intrigued to find out, it was a cheese and salami pizza with a crispy crust and added salt and spices. We would have gone with pepperoni personally, but apparently it goes moldy in space. Gross.

Corned Beef Sandwich

We’ll stick with the topic of food for now (mmmm Topics). In 1965, a five-hour mission manned by astronauts John Young and Gus Grissom was intercepted by a stowaway: a corned beef sandwich smuggled on-board by Young who apparently was not looking forward to eating specialist dehydrated space food. While this was a slightly risky move on Young’s part (loose food can potentially clog equipment), he was kind enough to share it with his space partner.

In fact, the thirty-second incident was recorded. Of those thirty seconds, the consuming of the sandwich only lasted around ten seconds though. For your amusement, we’ve pasted the whole conversation here:

Gus 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?

Okay it’s not exactly a sitcom, but we suppose anything can bring a small amount of humour when you’re stuck in outer space.

Lightsaber

Of course we’re not entirely surprised that one of the most beloved sci-fi franchises in cinema’s history sent one of their most well-known props into space. In 2007, NASA – along with the film’s creator George Lucas – sent one of the lightsaber’s used in Return Of The Jedi up in honor of the 30th anniversary. It also probably won’t shock you to learn that the ceremony was attended by an entourage of Star Wars fans, all donned in Stormtrooper, Chewbacca and Boba Fett costumes. It must have looked like a damn midnight premier that day.

After lifting off from Cape Canaveral, it was shot into orbit where it was handed over to the people aboard the ISS where we suspect they immediately began wielding it around in low gravity. Yeah, they were probably making all the vwing sounds and everything. That’s what we would have done anyway. Does that make us nerds? We certainly hope so.

Buzz Lightyear

This is another movie franchise that has every right to hand its merchandise over to NASA so it can be hurled into space. Let it be known, future sci-fi directors, that if your franchise becomes popular enough, you too can have one of your movie’s toys sent up to the ISS where it can stay indefinitely for experimental purposes.

Yes, that was apparently the reason for the Toy Story space ranger being sent up. Spending 468 days aboard the ISS, Buzz Lightyear was actually part of an educational outreach program. What exactly the toy was aiming to teach, we’re not quite sure. Unless they were just smearing it with mutated salmonella to see if it became sentient or something.

When Buzz finally came back to earth, he was honoured with a ticker-tape parade in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, with special guest was Buzz Aldrin. And we can’t even get a decent birthday party thrown for us.

Communion Wine

Speaking of Buzz Aldrin, when the famous astronaut was sent to the moon, he made a request to mission control saying that he would like a few moments of peace while he poured a vial of communion wine and broke some bread to mark the historic occasion. Does this mean Buzz Aldrin is a Christian? Maybe, maybe not. Disregarding his beliefs (if any), Aldrin said that his reason for wanting to hold a communion was to honor the memory of another famous explorer, Christopher Columbus, who is said to have held a similar ceremony when he discovered America.

What’s interesting about this story is that it’s not something that gets a whole lot of mention. Considering this was done when man first landed on the moon, it’s surprising that this little anecdote isn’t cited more often. Then again, with everything else that was going on, it was probably not on the forefront of people’s minds. Besides, Aldrin may have purposefully wanted to keep it low-key.

Lego Figure

Look at that majestic figure, posing in that stiff heroic pose we all know so well. From that height, it is we who appear to be the tiny figures. To the Lego man stood above our atmosphere, the whole world appears nothing more than a blue ball, a floating playing field on which imagination can come to life. Now we know how it feels to be the little insignificant toy, tiny in scale and importance.

Anyway, yes we suppose it was inevitable that someone was going to send a Lego figure up one day. The image above represents just one of many times the little bald yellow dudes have gone into space. While NASA has sent up their own figures, the Canadian fellow pictured here was actually sent up via helium balloon by two Canadian teenagers. The whole incident was photographed by four digital cameras and only cost them $400. Are you thinking what we’re thinking?

Blow-Up Sex Doll

We…er…wait what? The space-themed toys we get. The experimental fungus – while now three times more deadly and terrifying – had its scientific merits. And we’ll even let the hidden food supplies slip by. But what in all that is holy is a blow-up sex doll doing in zero gravity? Apparently the company that this doll belongs to weren’t entirely happy with their current Earth-bound ad campaigns, so they felt it necessary to take it to the next logical (read: extreme) step.

We suppose it was decent of them to put some clothes on the doll, but what makes us scratch our heads is this: if it was designed to advertised a specific sex shop, where is the company logo or even their address? This seems less like a publicity stunt and more like an actual stunt pulled off by college pranksters. It’s like a damn frat party all up in there.

Sperm Cells

We are truly sorry for this next entry, but after the tale of the clothed sex doll, we felt it necessary to make the logical leap to this item that was rocketed out of our atmosphere. The experiment in this instance was to see whether or not the sperm cells of certain animals would work the same when sent into space. In 1979, two female rats were actually able to get pregnant while in space.

Sadly they weren’t able to give birth to the young, but from a biological viewpoint, it was probably an interesting discovery all the same. We’re confident that the experiment was conducted in preparation for NASA’s future plans to introduce interstellar travel to the general population. While everyone else is thinking about which planets we’re going to colonize, others are concerning themselves with whether or not we can conceive on a rocket ship. Skip forward to the momentous day when we hear word of the first baby to be born in a shuttle.

Playboy Images

Okay, this is the last sex-related item on this list we swear. Look, we even censored the woman’s breast in the image. During the second mission to the moon, some of the crew decided it would be funny to actually attach a couple of images from the famed Playboy magazine. They slipped the items into the astronaut’s checklists which were attached to their wrists.

The unsuspecting astronauts, Richard Gordon, Pete Conrad and Alan L Bean only discovered the images when they were already part-way through their mission. Gordon, who remained in orbit while the other two were on the moon itself, said he discovered a topless picture of Miss August 1967, DeDe Lind, in his locker. No matter how brainy those guys and gals at NASA are, their decision to sneak lewd pictures onto a manned space flight only furthers our theory that some of the most intelligent scientists on the planet still have that college frat-boy mentality.

Walter White

Not content with being one of the most critically-acclaimed TV shows in recent years, Breaking Bad just had to take to take it a step further by hurling a bobblehead figure of main character Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) 85,000 feet into the air. Similar to the Lego figure from earlier, we imagine something like this would be relatively easy to store in even the tightest of spaces. Perhaps sending Walter into orbit was symbolic of something. Perhaps they were saying that Breaking Bad was larger than life and needed to ascend our puny planet.

Okay maybe not, but again we can’t see any scientific merit behind this one. Not that everything sent up needs to have a reason behind it. Maybe it’s just because it makes for an interesting story to tell when the crew get back to earth. And it does make for some interesting photos. Sadly, after travelling 250 miles, the bobblehead figure experienced a minor setback on re-entry: his head fell off.

Parts Of The Wright Brother’s Plane

We admit that this one isn’t so much weird as it is a beautiful and fitting tribute to the fathers of modern flight. Parts of the Wright brother’s plane have been sent into space a number of times. The first was in 1968 on the Challenger. Sadly this attempt failed when the shuttle exploded before leaving the atmosphere, killing all seven crew members on-board.

The pieces were fortunately recovered and another attempt was made, this time in 1969 on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Again, like Aldrin’s communion ceremony, this seems to be another piece of the historical event that is relatively unknown. Maybe we’re just being picky. What, is landing a rocket on the moon not impressive enough for us? Wow, are we hard to please.

But seriously, we can’t think of a better way to honor the innovative minds that helped bring about the invention of the aeroplane than by making their first machine a part of space history.