NASA 60th Anniversary: 60 Facts You Didn't Know About the Space Agency

On October 1, 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was born, approved into existence by then-president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Now, NASA is more than just an organization that throws things and people into space. It’s a beloved symbol of American achievement, international collaboration, and human ingenuity with a rich, often weird history that now spans six decades.

To celebrate NASA’s 60th anniversary, Inverse picked 60 little-known anecdotes to tell from its storied past. Here’s to celebrating the agency’s 120th in 2078 (hopefully by then we’ll be toasting on Mars)!

America's first satellite, Explorer 1, was launched on January 31, 1958, into orbit by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, months before NASA was formed that October.

Flickr / NASA Kennedy

60. NASA became operational on October 1, 1958, one year after the Soviets launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1.

59. NASA doesn’t allow regular cookies or bread on the International Space Station. (That’s how you get ants.)

58. The first flag on the moon fell about 10 seconds after being planted due to exhaust from the Eagle lunar module.

57. Everyone knows the phrase “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” but Neil Armstrong didn’t come up with it on the spot when he landed on the moon. NASA had a long discussion about what Armstrong’s first words would be.

56. Today, NASA has one-tenth the proportion of the federal budget it had during the Apollo missions.

55. The Planetary Defense arm of NASA is currently trying to figure out protection from asteroids.

54. It’s illegal for NASA to collaborate with China.

53. For every dollar NASA receives, it returns $7 to $21 back to the American public with its Technology Transfer Program, which brought us memory foam, MRI tech, and cell phone cameras.

52. NASA’s 2019 budget is $19.9 billion.

51. Astronauts poop into a hole on top of a silver can in the $19,000 Russian-made toilet on the ISS. A fan is then used to vacuum-suck the poop away.

50. NASA calls its round logo “the meatball design.”

A toilet on the ISS. 

Flickr / DMolybdenum

49. In 1960, artists hand-painted a lunar landing simulator at NASA to scale just so pilots could practice maneuvers on a fake moon.

48. In 2006, NASA accidentally recorded over footage of the 1969 landing.

47. NASA thinks we’ll have “definitive evidence” of aliens within 20 to 30 years.

46. In 2003, NASA confirmed a doctor’s theory that a meteor crashed into the moon in 1953.

45. NASA selects special music for astronauts to wake up to every morning during a mission.

44. One time, a darn ‘gator broke into an office at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

43. NASA has a “chief sniffer.”

42. During Apollo 11, the astronauts ate two meals. Meal A was bacon squares, peaches, sugar cookie cubes, coffee, and a pineapple-grapefruit drink. Meal B included beef stew, cream of chicken soup, date fruitcake, grape punch, and an orange drink.

41. Bill Nye applied to be a NASA astronaut four times and was rejected all four times.

Bill Nye, who is not a NASA astronaut, at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. 

Flickr / NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

40. NASA will pay you to lay in bed to study the effects of weightlessness.

39. NASA chief scientist Jim Green says he’s seen Alien “50 times.”

38. In 1997, NASA was sued by three Yemeni men for trespassing. (The men claimed they’d inherited Mars from their ancestors.)

37. NASA designed a swimsuit that later got banned in international competitions for being too high-tech (swimmers broke 130 world records).

36. NASA’s Apollo mission would have cost $200 billion today.

35. NASA’s current budget is only 0.4 percent of the total federal budget.

34. NASA created technology used to make a skin cream that increases moisture by 76 percent.

33. Aerospace tech shared between NASA and the Kaman Music Corporation led to an enhanced acoustic guitar.

32. These are some plants NASA has grown in space: bok choy, rice, tulips, radishes, potatoes, and sunflowers.

31. Shuttle Astronaut Bill Gregory ate 48 straight space meals that included shrimp cocktail.

30. In 2017, NASA astronauts didn’t get Thanksgiving off (but they got Friday).

Thanksgiving on the International Space Station in 2016. (In 2017, NASA astronauts had to work.)


29. It’s customary for NASA astronauts to watch NFL on the ISS on Thanksgiving.

28. In 1965, two NASA astronauts radioed mission control on Christmas just to play “Jingle Bells” on a harmonica and sleigh bells.

27. The first 3D printer in space was launched in 2014, and the first tool printed was a ratchet wrench.

26. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson holds the record among American astronauts for longest time spent in space, at 665 days.

25. Max Q is an all-astronaut rock and roll band — they’re named for an engineering term for “maximum dynamic pressure experienced by an ascending spacecraft.”

24. NASA named a facility after Katherine Johnson, the African-American mathematician whose work John Glenn specifically requested in critical calculations to get him to space.

23. Jerry Linenger of NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis celebrated his birthday with an inflatable cake. (No crumbs!)

Jerry Linenger and a crumbless cake.


22. Bill Gregory wasn’t alone: Astronauts’ most-requested meal is shrimp cocktail. One astronaut, Story Musgrave, apparently ate it for almost every meal.

21. Buzz Aldrin took the first space selfie in 1966. The print sold for approximately $9200 in 2015.

20. Anna Lee Fisher was the first mother to go to space, and was assigned to her first flight only two weeks before she gave birth.

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, shown here in 2012, ran the Boston Marathon on a treadmill on the ISS in 2007.


19. In 2006, Sunita Williams added miles to her trip by becoming the first astronaut to run the Boston Marathon while in space.

18. NASA helped the British Library identify their oldest object, a Chinese oracle bone describing a lunar eclipse. With NASA’s help, the eclipse was dated to December 27, 1192 BCE, sometime between 9:48 P.M. and 11:30 P.M.

17. Thanks to NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery, Buzz Lightyear (yes, that one) made it to the ISS in 2008.

16. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly says that in space, calluses fall off the bottom of his feet but develop on the top of the feet, since astronauts use the tops to make use of foot rails.

15. Kitty O’Brien Joyner was NASA’s first woman engineer and had to start a lawsuit to gain admission to the University of Virginia’s engineering school.

14. After the return of Apollo 9 in 1969, the crew was welcomed with a three-tier, 350-pound cake, complete with a command module cake topper. (It wasn’t inflatable.)

13. Putting a spacesuit on is called “donning” the suit. Removing the suit is called “doffing.”

12. In 1971, Alan Shepard smuggled a makeshift golf club aboard Apollo 14 by disguising it as a piece of sampling equipment and covering it with a sock. He became the first person to play golf anywhere other than Earth.

11. Astronauts just burn their dirty laundry upon re-entry instead of washing it in space.

It doesn't take an hour to don a suit anymore, but in 1999 Mission Specialist Michael Foale still needs the help of a technician to suit up.


10. It took NASA astronauts one hour to don a suit during Apollo. Now it takes 30 minutes.

9.NASA astronauts on the ISS work out six out of seven days a week for 2.5 hours each day.

8. NASA prohibits married astronaut couples from flying together but it happened once in 1992, after astronauts Mark Lee and Jan Davis secretly married and didn’t tell NASA.

7. In 2010, NASA astronaut Alan Poindexter said astronauts don’t have sex in space. “Personal relationships are not … an issue,” Poindexter said, according to the AFP. “We don’t have them and we won’t.”

6. Snoopy from the Peanuts is NASA’s official safety mascot.

Commander Tom Stafford pats Snoopy's nose before launching the Apollo 10 mission in 1969.


5. NASA astronauts on the ISS aren’t allowed to drink alcohol.

4. On New Year’s, Russian astronauts on the ISS gave NASA astronauts grape juice with labels on it to look like champagne.

3. A 2007 NASA review showed there have been at least two astronauts in the agency’s history that had consumed heavy amounts of alcohol in the immediate pre-flight period, but were still permitted to fly.

2. A NASA love triangle ended in the arrest of one astronaut for attacking her love rival, the girlfriend of a fellow astronaut, in 2007.

1. Apollo 10 astronauts said they heard “outer space-type music” in 1969 while orbiting the moon, even though there was no music playing.

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