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N for NASA

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1149264.  Tue Sep 15, 2015 3:10 pm Reply with quote

Being an astronaut is a fairly perilous profession- so much so, that from 1969 until 1972, during the era of the Apollo missions, NASA was unable to offer life insurance to it’s astronauts, and their job was considered too dangerous for private life insurance. In 1969, the astronauts of Apollo 11, including the newly famous Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, came up with a fairly unique solution; during their month long quarantine before launch day, they each signed hundreds of ‘covers’- autographed envelopes to be postmarked on a special date- and gave them to friends to get postmarked on launch day. The hope was, in the event of fatal accident, the astronauts’ families could sell the autographs for a significant price. Luckily, the mission went ahead with no major mishaps and the autographs were never needed, but they definitely seem like a successful insurance scheme... if you wanted to pick a single cover up at auction now you’d be looking to pay around $30,000.

From insurance, to legal lunar disputes: In 2001, a man named Gregory W. Nemitz issued NASA a $20 parking ticket for landing the NEAR Shoemaker craft on asteroid 433 Eros. His company, Orbital Development, had claimed ownership of 433 Eros about 11 months previously, however NASA refused to pay the invoice, citing “...faulty interpretation of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967”. Despite Orbital Development’s “very reasonable” bill of 20 cents per year in rent, payable in one-century installments, the U.S. Department of State finally ruled that their claim had no basis in law, and NASA were not obliged to pay the $20 charge, nor the associated late fee of $1,100.

In a similar vein, many people have tried claiming ownership of extra-terrestrial real estate. Dennis Hope, an American entrepreneur who has been mentioned on “No Such Thing As A Fish”, started the “Lunar Embassy Commission” in 1980, and maintains he has sold over 2.5million 1-acre plots on the Moon. He supposedly allocates these plot by closing his eyes and sticking a pin in a map, has declared that U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan have purchased lunar ground from him, and has also since claimed ownership of Mars, Venus, Mercury and Io... “because he says so”.

It should be noted that, while it is not expressly prohibited for a private entity to own extra-terrestrial territory, Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty states "The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty”, so, as yet, no private institution or persons “own” extra-terrestrial land. So while a celestial certificate might look good hanging above your toilet, you’d be a lunatic to buy one.

Talking of toilets (in an in no way shoehorned segue... and don’t read on if you’re squeamish) where does all the spaceman poo go? Well next time you’re looking up at the night sky and see a shooting star, there is a chance you’re watching a block of astronaut excrement burn up as it hits our atmosphere. Smaller transport shuttles generally have a small, air assisted toilet on board (which looks a bit like an airplane loo), which store fecal matter until docking with the ISS. There, any trash is compressed and cast off towards our atmosphere. This may not seem like the most sophisticated method, but even having a toilet seems like a luxury in space. Back on Apollo 11, when nature called Neil Armstrong, he had to attach an adhesive bag to his bum and, thanks to the lack of gravity to aid separation, use a “finger cot” to manually assist the movement. Astronauts then had to knead a germicide into their waste to prevent gas-expelling bacteria flourishing in the sealed bag and causing it to explode. Presumably, some poor astronaut learned that one the hard way...


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