WARNING: This post contains mildly not-safe-for-work content.
The cosmos are majestic place.
They remind us at once of our insignificance on the grand scale of the universe, and the absolute miracle of the fact that we get to live here and witness it all.
They’re also a place we like to mount weird junk on giant rocket boosters and fire into. Because, you know, humans gonna human.
Without further ado, here are the weirdest things we’ve sent into space:
Back in 2010, SpaceX launched a wheel of Gruyère cheese into space. Weirdly, CEO Elon Musk was super secretive about the Falcon 9's mystery cargo until after the mission. 'It's kind of funny,' a Space.com article reports he promised reporters 'If you like Monty Python, you'll love the secret.' He later revealed that it was a reference to a classic Monty Python skit in which John Cleese tries to order cheese from a cheeseless cheese shop. The verdict is still out as to whether that joke made any sense, but the wheel of cheese returned to earth safely.
Stunt launch props aren't limited to private companies. In 2009, NASA hauled the actual Luke Skywalker lightsaber prop into space aboard the space shuttle Discovery as Popular Mechanics reported at the time. It too returned safely to Earth.
Here's one story that would be hard to imagine happening today.
When Astronauts travelled to the moon, they brought along itemized to-do lists strapped to their wrists. On the 1969 Apollo 12 mission, the people who prepared the notebooks decorated them with cartoons and porn copied from 'Playboy.'
One of the astronauts later told a 'Playboy' reporter that they didn't notice the photos until they were actually walking on the moon. At risk of sending reader scurrying like kids who found the bad words in the dictionary, I'll point out that NASA still hosts the old-school pornographic images on it's website -- an act of historical honesty which I think the space agency deserves credit for.
There have actually been a lot of human remains sent into space -- in fact, there are companies dedicated to the service. But by far the farthest flung remains belong to the astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto and other outer solar system in 1930. Before he died in 1997, he asked that his remains get sent to space. NASA later honored his request, including a small capsule of his ashes in the New Horizons probe that reached Pluto in 2015.
Back in 1985, Coca-Cola and Pepsi took their ad war into the cosmos. Specialised cans carried both companies' fizzy sugar drinks into low Earth orbit on a space shuttle Challenger mission. As Bend, Oregon's 'The Bulletin' reported at the time, astronauts were banned from showing the cans on TV to avoid tainting NASA with advertising. At least some of the cans contained now-failed 'New Coke.'
Amelia Earhart was an aviator and adventurer, as well as the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean. In 2010, her watch travelled somewhere even more remote: the ISS. Space.com reported that the timepiece arrived in the care of NASA astronaut Shannon Walker. Walker was, incidentally, the 55th woman in space.
NASA may have had qualms about enabling advertising in space. But Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has now such hang-ups. In 2001, when Pizza Hut offered the agency $1 million to deliver a shrink-wrapped salami pizza to cosmonaut Yuri Usachov.
File this one in your 'Why the hell not?' folder. NASA's Juno mission, launched in 2011, seeks to expand our understanding of Jupiter -- and, by extension, the origins of the solar system. NASA leaves us with this explanation:
In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief. From Mount Olympus, Juno was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter's true nature. Juno holds a magnifying glass to signify her search for the truth, while her husband holds a lightning bolt. The third LEGO crew member is Galileo Galilei, who made several important discoveries about Jupiter, including the four largest satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean moons in his honour). Of course, the miniature Galileo has his telescope with him on the journey.
Sure, why the hell not.
This, in my opinion, is even crazier than the porn.
As Brian Switek reports in Smithsonian, dino fossils have actually made it into space twice. The first time was in 1985, when bits of Maiasaura peeblesorum bone and eggshell travelled to Skylab 2 with Astronaut Loren Acton. In 1998, a Coelophysis skull hitched a ride to the Mir on the space shuttle Endeavour. Both returned safely to Earth.
NASA isn't big on weaponizing space. But, again, those crazy cosmonauts of other ideas. Russian spacefarers routinely carried TP-82 shotguns (pictured above) along on their missions until 2006, in case they landed in unfriendly territory. Now they bring semi-automatic handguns. And as Popular Science reports, they have also lofted an R-23 gun from an aeroplane into space and fired it.
Of all the weird things NASA likes to bring into space, movie props seem to be the most common. A Buzz Lightyear figurine spent 467 days aboard the ISS, as Space.com reports, and now lives at the Smithsonian.