Breaking Barriers: 45 NASA’s Contributions to Human Spaceflight 2

26Space Tortillas

Space Tortillas

NASA's astronauts prefer using tortillas to make sandwiches instead of normal bread as pieces of bread have too many crumbs. When some astronauts discovered this fact, NASA wanted to make tortillas for space and failed as none met their microbiological needs. Taco Bell then made a tortilla in the 90s with a 9-month shelf life, so NASA started using those instead.

27. NASA pilots routinely intercepted and defeated U.S. Navy Phantom IIs in mock dogfights, until complaints from the Navy put an end to the harassment.

28. On Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, astronauts had to do everything in their seats beside their crewmates due to limited space, including eating, sleeping, and toilet. For bowel movements, the astronaut would first tape a plastic bag to his buttocks. When he was done, he would seal the bag, then knead it to mix a liquid bactericide with the contents.

29. NASA has a detailed set of written procedures for dealing with a suicidal or psychotic astronaut in space. The astronaut's crewmates are supposed to bind the wrists and ankles of the astronaut who has "lost it" with duct tape, tie them down with a bungee cord and inject them with tranquilizers if necessary.

30. Scott Carpenter was the only NASA Mercury astronaut who hadn't finished college. After his spaceflight, the university granted him his degree because "his subsequent training as an astronaut more than made up for the deficiency in the subject of heat transfer."

31Charlie Walker

Charlie Walker

NASA disqualified an engineer named Charlie Walker and rejected his application in 1978 to become an astronaut. He then went on to co-develop a space-bound device that required him to accompany it. Walker flew into space three times with the device he co-patented and thus became the first non-government individual to fly into space.

32. The reason why NASA (and later the Russians) use a specialized space pen instead of a pencil in space is that the graphite of pencils is conductive and can cause short circuits and even fires. The pens have been used since the Apollo era and are still being used right now on the International Space Station.

33. Thanks to 3D printing, NASA can send plans for new tools and equipment to the Space Station over email. Instead of waiting months for new gear, Astronauts can now print new gear in hours.

34. The ridiculous notion that NASA astronauts carry suicide pills for use in case they are marooned in outer space is untrue. Exposure to outer space results in a much faster and smoother demise compared to a suicide pill.

35. In 1969, as requested by Richard Nixon, NASA made 250 display plaques for 135 nations, 50 States in the USA, and the United Nations. Flags from all the countries and states were flown onboard Apollo 11 to the moon and back, which were then gifted to each respective state and nation along with fragments of a lunar sample.

36Rectal Thermometer

Rectal Thermometer

Astronauts of Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program of the United States, flew with a rectal thermometer in them, to record their body temperature during the mission. For the last six manned flights, however, rectal thermometers were replaced with oral thermometers.

37. When the replacement crew for Skylab entered the empty space station, they found that it wasn't empty at all. There were 3 figures inside. Upon further inspection, the replacement crew found out that these were dummies placed in flight suits by the previous Skylab crew before they left.

38. American astronaut John Grunsfeld once called into NPR's Car Talk posing as a stumped caller, while he was in orbit aboard Space Shuttle Endeavor. He asked the host why his government vehicle was shaking violently for a couple of minutes before the engine died.

39. NASA's first Space Shuttle was to be named "Constitution", but after a major letter-writing campaign by Star Trek fans, its name was affectionately changed to "Enterprise."

40. Astronauts from the Gemini and Apollo missions used a condom-like device to extract urine. Its sizes were labeled small, medium, and large. When astronauts only took the ones labeled "large," NASA engineers then started labeling them "large," "gigantic," and "humongous."

41Mayan Ruins

Mayan Ruins

Back in 2006, NASA's Earth observation satellites uncovered Mayan ruins that had become overgrown by jungle and weren't visible.

42. On December 16, 1965, astronauts Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford became the first people to perform music in space when they played Jingle Bells on harmonica and bells that they had smuggled onto the Gemini VI.

43. Gemini 9 astronauts had a spacewalk planned as part of their mission and in the worst-case scenario, if the astronaut couldn't get back in, NASA planned to attempt re-entry of the vehicle with the astronaut still tethered outside, which would have most likely killed both astronauts. The crew had clear instructions to not cut loose the astronaut stuck outside. The astronaut did have lots of trouble with the spacewalk but did manage to make his way back inside safely.

44. The first spacewalk was performed by astronaut Edward Higgins White during Gemini 4 mission and during the spacewalk, he lost a thermal glove. It thus became one of the first pieces of space debris, as it stayed in orbit at over 28,000kph for a month.

45. For the Gemini 5 and 7 missions, NASA devised an experiment to test astronaut vision acuity by flattening large areas of land into patterns at a test site and had the astronauts tell ground control what they saw. They required this data to predict the crew's naked-eye visual capability to identify objects on the earth's surface in daylight.