24 Amazing Facts You Didn’t Know About NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA, started operating 61 years ago this October. There has been a lot to celebrate!
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NASA is credited (wrongly) with inventing Velcro, Tang, and Teflon—myths it busts on its own website, although it does point out that these products were all used by NASA programs at one point or another after they were invented. But this invention is indisputable: the Super Soaker water gun, which was created by former NASA systems engineer Lonnie Johnson—as are these 15 other items that were invented by NASA.
The history of NASA is a history of almost uncountable firsts, including the first time anyone ever shaved in space. That honor went to the crew of Apollo 10, who broke out safety razors, shaving gel, and damp washcloths to scrape the stubble off their chins on their way home after four days in space in 1969, where they simulated a moon landing to help preparations for Apollo 11, reports Space.com.
Your rest is their gain
According to NASA, a meaningful way to study the effects of prolonged weightlessness on the human body is to study people who stay in bed for long periods of time. So, they’re paying people $19,000 to keep vertical for two months at a time—although, as CNBC reports, that position is likely to change (literally) as NASA scientists put you and your bed through a centrifuge.
“Following cancellation of Apollo 18, 19, and 20, we had a lot of hardware lying around gathering dust,” according to NASA’s history site, “so we put it to some remarkably good use.” Namely, they used equipment like Apollo’s Command and Service Modules and its Telescope Mount, to build Skylab in 1973, the United States’ first space station.
Bras in space?
When NASA needed to build spacesuits for Apollo 11—celebrating its 50th anniversary this year—it tapped bra and girdle manufacturer Playtex to create garments that could withstand temperatures of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and withhold the necessary pressure to keep the astronauts alive…but still be plenty flexible. The company invented a fabric made of Teflon-coated microfibers for the task, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Sandwiches in space
In 1965, the Gemini 3 mission sent astronauts John Young and Gus Grissom around the Earth three times. Young actually smuggled a corned beef sandwich onto the spacecraft—the first known case of edible contraband in space. You can read the NASA transcript of the conversation between co-pilot Grissom and Young, in which Young admits that bringing it along was a bad idea (it started to break apart almost immediately).
Cashing in on fame
Apollo 11 is celebrated as the first time humans walked on the moon. But the three astronauts who manned the mission—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins—couldn’t get any company to issue them life insurance before they blasted off into space, reports NBC News. To provide for their families in case they didn’t make it back to Earth, they autographed envelopes and postcards that friends postmarked with their launch and landing dates, which could be sold for big bucks to space enthusiasts in the event they didn’t make it back alive.
NASA loves cartoons…
So much so that it named two of its satellites “Tom” and “Jerry,” after the cartoon cat and mouse first introduced to American audiences in 1940. The space-age duo can be found “chasing” each other as they orbit the earth as part of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, to measure our planet’s gravitational field.
It also loves comics
One comic icon in particular—and that’s Charles Schulz’s Snoopy, along with this longstanding companion, Charlie Brown. They lent their names to the lunar and command modules, respectively, for Apollo 10. But as PBS reports, the association went deeper, with the astronauts bringing Snoopy and Charlie Brown artwork with them into space.
Archival photos of Apollo 11 moonwalker Aldrin show him testing out a jetpack in advance of his mission. Although the intention was for the crew to use this state of the art equipment, the plan was scrapped—much to Aldrin’s chagrin. On the upside, according to Science 101, jetpacks are all standard-issue astronaut gear today.