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Facts About Astronauts We Just Learned That Made Us Say 'Really?'

May 12, 2021 1.5k votes 303 voters 9.7k views12 items

List RulesVote up the facts about astronauts you find most surprising.

Hollywood has taught us that things can go very wrong in space, but even under ideal circumstances, being an astronaut is a tough job.

Astronauts undergo rigorous physical and mental training, and experience significant deprivations in space, such as being away from family, not having access to regular food and exercise, and a lack of gravity. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's moon landing in 1969 made international headlines and instilled fantasies of space travel in people around the world. Small children often dream of becoming astronauts, but in reality, less than 0.7% of NASA applicants are accepted into the program, and far less make it through the intense training process. Only the most elite pilots and scientists are selected by NASA, and even fewer actually travel in space. These stories and facts underscore just how difficult it is to be an astronaut; vote up the ones that shocked you!

  • 1

    Gordon Cooper Had To Manually Calculate Reentry When His Vehicle Lost All Power In 1963

    When astronaut Gordon Cooper launched into space in 1963 in the Mercury-Atlas 9 mission, he was set to orbit the Earth 22 times, setting a record for the longest time a human had spent in space. After 34 hours, however, Cooper barely made it back alive when a short-circuit in the electrical system left him without power and the carbon dioxide levels inside the craft began to rise. 

    Ground control informed Cooper that he would need to make a manual reentry - a risky endeavor given the very small margin for error. But Cooper remained calm, made calculations based on stars, used his wristwatch to keep time, and looked out of the window to determine altitude. Cooper perfectly calculated his reentry pitch and splashed down in the ocean right next to the ship sent to pluck him out of the water and deliver him home safely.

    Fascinating fact?
  • 2

    All Astronauts Going To The International Space Station Must Learn Russian

    The US and Russia engaged in the Space Race beginning in the 1950s, with both countries attempting to be the first to successfully explore space as no one else had done before. As space exploration became more commonplace, a hub and resting place was built and launched into orbit. While the International Space Station (ISS) was constructed with the teamwork of five space programs and is used as a stopping point for numerous countries, the primary language aboard the ISS is Russian.

    Not only do NASA's astronauts need to be able to speak Russian, but they must also be able to read the Cyrillic alphabet. Because a main point of contact for the ISS is Russia and many of the instructions are written in Russian, astronauts aboard the station need to be able to accurately translate those instructions in case of an emergency. The necessity of precision in space cannot be understated, so translations must be checked and double-checked to ensure the accuracy of transmissions in the ISS. NASA's astronauts undergo over 1,000 hours of Russian language training and even stay with a Russian family in order to become more fluent prior to their mission to the ISS.

    Fascinating fact?
  • 3

    No One Knows What Neil Armstrong Brought To The Moon - Or If He Left Anything There

    Astronauts are instructed to document all of the items they bring on board a spacecraft by filling out a personal property kit (PPK). However, the PPK that Neil Armstrong supposedly filled out before the first mission to successfully land on the moon has never actually been seen. This means that no one officially knows what Armstrong brought into space - or what he left there. 

    The Apollo 11 astronauts had specific instructions from the NASA crew on how to spend their time. However, before returning to the Lunar Module, Armstrong reportedly walked away from Aldrin to visit the Little West crater, which had not been part of the original plan. No one knows what he did by the crater because the camera on the Lunar Module was not facing his direction, but it was evidently important to him; his heart rate jumped to 180, revealing that he exerted himself significantly to make the trek. In the 2018 film First Man, actor Ryan Gosling depicts Armstrong using that moment by the West crater to leave a bracelet once worn by his small daughter, who perished of a brain tumor at 2 years old in 1962. Armstrong, who was famously laconic, never revealed what he did at the Little West crater.

    Fascinating fact?
  • 4

    Astronauts Can Lose Up To 22% Of Their Blood While In Space

    The lack of gravity in space severely impacts the bodies of astronauts, from muscle retention to blood pressure. On Earth, our blood pressure vacillates depending on activity, but for the most part, blood pressure in our brains remains around 60-80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) while pressure in our feet can go up to 200 mmHg when standing.

    In space, blood pressure will stabilize at 100 mmHg throughout the body, including in the brain. After a few days with no gravity in space, an astronaut's body will self-regulate in an attempt to return to the ideal of 60-80 mmHg in the brain by dumping what it sees as an excess of blood. The astronaut's body will return to normal once back on Earth, but the changes in blood pressure, muscle mass, and fluid retention are some of the many reasons that people must be in the best shape possible before launching into space.


    Fascinating fact?