It’s April Fool’s Day, which means you’re likely about to be glitter bombed or jump-scared by the most dangerous people in the world – those you love and trust the most. Don’t even think of trying to get off-world to escape their mischief, however: Astronauts aren’t exactly averse to pulling off pranks themselves.
Here’s a selection of silliness played out aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and elsewhere in our planetary neighborhood. You could say – as people have said countless times in the past – these pranks are out of this world, quite literally. (Sorry.)
1 – Unauthorized Spacewalk
Back on April Fool’s Day 2010, three astronauts aboard the ISS sent a shot of themselves, sans spacesuits, outside the Cupola to Mission Control. Despite the horrific lack of oxygen, heat, and anything resembling habitability out there, the expressions on their faces suggest that they’re pretty chilled about it.
The trio of pranksters – NASA’s Timothy Creamer, Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, and cosmonaut Oleg Kotov – rose a few giggles from the folks back home, according to Space.com. Their “spacewalk” certainly had the opposite effect to one that took place this very year, when a record-setting prolonged venture on the ISS’s exterior culminated with a critical communications antenna being put in the wrong place.
2 – Packaged Astronaut
Back in 2017, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, up aboard the ISS, decided that she wanted to give her Russian crewmates a bit of a scare. There aren’t many places to hide up there in such a confined space, so she enlisted the help of fellow astronauts Shane Kimbrough (NASA) and Thomas Pesquet (ESA) to pack her into a cargo bag.
Thrown into their module, the cosmonauts were clearly fairly surprised when an American astronaut burst forth, like a Jack-in-the-Box in microgravity. Although not particularly scary at the end of the day, it was enormously adorable.
3 – Space Gorilla
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s identical twin – yes, they’re still identical twins – Mark, plotted what is arguably the most coordinated, long-distance prank in history. Sending up a gorilla suit on a resupply flight to his ISS-based brother, Scott quickly donned it and concealed himself in another one of those soft-sided storage containers.
As ESA astronaut Tim Peake was strapping it down, the space gorilla emerged and – as is documented by some glorious official NASA video – pursues his British spacefarer around the ISS. Some commentators at the time wondered if this was the best use of time and money for the venerable space agency, but we’d suggest that such a minor jovial episode was well worth it for its inherent ludicrousness.
4 – The Ghostly Woman
Back on September 10, 1973, astronauts aboard the now defunct Skylab began to hear a woman’s voice playing over the intercom. Those down in Houston heard it too and, for a moment, everyone was slightly startled. There were only male astronauts aboard Skylab at the time, so where was the voice – speaking of cooking meals and watching forest fires from up above – coming from?
It turns out that astronaut Owen Garriott had recorded his wife during a prior radio chat the evening before, and asked her to read out some pre-prepared statements, punctuated with pauses to allow for a response from Houston to come through.
Played aloud, this had the effect of appearing that a female astronaut had snuck aboard and was engaging in a decidedly surprising, unorthodox conversation.
When confronted with a perfectly understandable “who are you” from Mission Control, the disembodied voice did in fact respond by accurately identifying herself as Helen Garriott, which brought up more questions than it answered until the truth was revealed.
"Well, I see the boys are floating in my direction. I've got to get off the line,” Helen said, signing off at the end of the transmission. “I'm not supposed to be talking to you.”
5 – Pizza Delivery
Coinciding with April Fool’s Day 2013, NASA astronaut Ron Garan, along with fellow marauders of microgravity Mike Fossum and Satoshi Furukawa, phoned a pizza place back in Houston – one that boasts that it can deliver a pizza anywhere in the area in 30 minutes or fewer – from the ISS, and challenged them to match their words with (some considerably unorthodox) action.
Disappointingly though, according to Mashable, the call was fabricated and no pizza was actually ordered. Hopefully, this’ll encourage those currently aboard the ISS right now to do this prank properly on this year’s day of jovial daftness.
6 – Corned Beef Pioneer
Smuggling stuff into space isn’t easy, and it’s not advised for a variety of technological, health, and safety issues, but that didn’t stop NASA astronaut John Young from bucking the rule. On March 23, 1963, as he was about to be launched on Gemini III, the first crewed flight in the program, he suddenly made a rather madcap revelation to his crewmate Gus Grissom.
The transcript of the conversation speaks for itself.
Grissom: What is it?
Young: Corn beef sandwich.
Grissom: Where did that come from?
Young: I brought it with me. Let's see how it tastes. Smells, doesn't it?
Grissom: Yes, it's breaking up. I'm going to stick it in my pocket.
Young: Is it?
Young: It was a thought, anyways.
Young: Not a very good one.
Grissom: Pretty good, though, if it would just hold together.
Young: Want some chicken leg?
Grissom: No, you can handle that.
The first corned beef sandwich to make it to space. What a time to be alive.
7 – Neil Armstrong’s Alien Surprise
During the historic, era-defining first moon landing back in July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were bouncing around the considerably low-gravity moon, relaying their discoveries back to the billions watching their antics back on Earth. During one of the periods in which their communications were interrupted, though, Armstrong decided to play a prank on Aldrin.
Donning a plastic Halloween alien mask inside his suit, he snuck up on his fellow lunar lodger and leapt at him, screaming as he did. Aldrin was so taken aback that he tripped and fell over, and a good time was had by all.
Okay, that one was a lie, but hey – it is April Fool’s Day.