spaceSpace and Physics

In A Hilarious Accident, Astronaut Dials 911 Emergency Services From Space


European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers of the Netherlands looks through the Earth observation window from aboard the International Space Station in 2004. Wikimedia Commons

Houston we, uh, don’t actually have a problem. Forget I called. K, bye.

We’ve all been there. The butt dial, the pocket dial, the wrong-number dial – you name it. But not many of us can say we’ve done any of those things while orbiting around Earth. That is unless you're Dutch astronaut André Kuipers.


That’s right. Speaking with the Netherlands’ public broadcaster Nederlandse Omroep Stichting in commemoration of this year’s 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Kuipers said he mistakenly called American emergency services when he forgot to dial 0 while making a long distance call from aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The 60-year-old told the radio program that it’s possible to communicate with Earth via satellite about 70 percent of the time. But it’s not as easy as just telling Siri to dial your mom, or tapping in a phone number at the phone booth. (For those of you born after 1998, a phone booth is an archaic method of communication that had phones tethered to actual lines. They even took real coins.) Just like radio stations broadcast signals to your car stereo, the ISS can communicate information down to Earth in a variety of ways, including email, video chats, and, yes, even Twitter. 



"If you're in space, it's like you're making a call via Houston, first you dial the 9 for an outside line, and then 011 for an international line, but yes, you float and you have to key it in on a screen,” explained Kuipers, who said the day after making his mistake he received an email message asking if he had actually called 911.


"I missed the 0, and indeed there was a report at the Houston alarm center [that] something happened in the Johnson Space Center,” said Kuipers, joking that he was “a little disappointed that they had not come up.”

Fortunately, even in space astronauts are able to occasionally call home and say hello to friends and family, but there is a delay given the approximately 386-kilometer (240-mile) distance from Earth. 

“Sometimes, people would hang up because they thought I did not say anything, so later on I started to talk as soon as I had dialed the last number,” Kuipers said.

[H/T: Nederlandse Omroep Stichting

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