The Best Space Pranks in History

April 1st is traditionally considered an April Fools’ Day, when everyone can play pranks on their friends shamelessly. Of course, this year, circumstances have developed so that most of us are not laughing. But sometimes all of us need to be distracted from the negativity. Therefore, on the occasion of April 1, the editorial office of The Universe. Space. Tech has compiled a selection of the five most amusing pranks in history, the authors of which were astronauts and cosmonauts. For although space explorers are professionals of the extra class, nothing human is alien to them, and many of them like to make fun of their colleagues

Lunar Cockroach

During the preparation for the launch of the Apollo 12 mission, one of the specialists noticed a cockroach in the command module of the spacecraft. But, despite all efforts, engineers could not find and kick out the “violator”. 

The story got an unexpected sequel a few weeks later, when Apollo 12 was returning from the Moon. During a television communication session, the expedition commander Charles Conrad proudly demonstrated a mustachioed insect. When asked by the engineers, he replied that all this time the “stowaway” was hiding in the food compartment and got very fat. It was only after the astronauts returned to Earth that it turned out that Conrad was joking and took a plastic cockroach with him. What happened to the real insect remains a mystery.

Aliens on the space station

One of the most textbook space practical jokes in history is associated with the Skylab orbital station. When a replacement crew arrived on it in 1973, they found “uninvited guests” — three figures silently staring at the astronauts. 

One of the “uninvited guests” at the Skylab station. Source: NASA

Fortunately, it wasn’t an alien invasion. It turned out that the previous crew (the Skylab 3 expedition) decided to prepare a “surprise” for their replacements. The astronauts took three old overalls, stuffed them with garbage, attached paper packages instead of heads and placed them in different parts of the station.

One of the crew members, Edward Gibson, later described his impressions of what he saw: “I literally felt how they were watching, as if controlling everything I was doing… Creepy.”

Wife’s visit

The Skylab 3 expedition mentioned above was distinguished by an enviable sense of humor. It is not surprising that she had the honor to prank, which is often called the best in the history of cosmonautics. It was like this. During a routine communication session, the staff of the MCC suddenly heard a female voice. It belonged to Helen Garriott (wife of astronaut Owen Garriott), who reported that she had arrived at the station to bring some hot food to the astronauts. After that, the loud laughter of the station crew was heard in the headphones.

The crew of the Skylab 3 expedition (Owen Garriott — on the left). Source: NASA

Of course, Helen Garriott never left Earth. The idea of the prank belonged to her husband. A few months before the flight, he asked his wife to record pre-prepared phrases on a dictaphone, after which he agreed with the shift manager and his friend-operator, rehearsing with them the future “dialogue” with Helen and discussing a special sign, after which he would turn on the recording. The rest of the MCC staff, of course, knew nothing about what was happening. According to eyewitnesses, a female voice from orbit made some of them doubt their own mental health.

Vodka in Tubes

July 17, 1975 went down in the history of cosmonautics as the day of the historic docking of the Soyuz and Apollo spacecraft. This date was also remembered for a very remarkable prank, the author of which was cosmonaut Alexey Leonov. After the American astronauts crossed the board of the Soyuz, he calmly handed them a set of tubes with labels with the words “Stolichnaya”, “Moskovskaya”, “Wheat”, and then explained that, according to an old tradition, they should definitely celebrate the meeting.

Astronauts Tom Stafford and  Deke Slayton demonstrate “vodka” in tubes. Source: NASA

The Americans resisted for a long time, but then they gave up and agreed to take a sip from the tubes. As a result, it turned out that there were not hot drinks inside, but borscht (they say that after the astronauts were even a little upset). It turned out that Leonov simply pasted vodka labels on the borscht tubes. Interestingly, few people on Earth still believe that the participants of the famous flight really used borscht, and not something stronger.

The “extra” cosmonaut

As the crew of Skylab 3, Soviet cosmonauts Valery Ryumin and Leonid Popov had a good sense of humor. While on board the Salyut-6 orbital station, they came up with a prank that developed the “idea” of their American colleagues.

Valery Ryumin and Leonid Popov. Source:

During one of the television communication sessions with the astronauts, the bewildered operators first heard a knock, and then saw a hatch open between the working and transition compartment, from where an unknown figure in a spacesuit floated out. Looking around, Ryumin said with displeasure: “You’re always late”, to which she muttered something in response. It was only after a while that the MCC realized that this was a joke and laughed.

According to the cosmonauts, it took two hours to prepare the prank. They took the spacesuit and forced it to move with the help of cables (which were laid so that they could not be seen during the broadcast). For greater conviction, Ryumin and Popov even recorded the sounds of knocking and “speech” of the third crew member on a tape recorder.