The Funniest Side Effect of Returning to Earth From Space
In outer space, under conditions of microgravity, objects float. Astronauts who spend many months onboard the International Space Station (ISS) grow accustomed to this. Rather than handing a tool to their colleague, they might simply push it from a distance. Or when drinking a beverage, they'll let it hover beside them in between sips. Space has its perks!
Of course, those perks vanish upon returning to Earth's surface, where our planet's tyrannical gravitational pull exerts a stronger sway. What once floated instead abruptly falls. This harsh reality has a long history of thwarting unadjusted astronauts.
Two-time ISS veteran Thomas H. Marshburn poked fun at this in a viral YouTube video posted in 2013. In the video, Marshburn is repeatedly irked when, upon releasing objects in the air, they fell rather than floated. The video was staged, but it showcased a very real circumstance: in the days after returning to Earth, astronauts tend to forget about gravity.
In 1998, astronaut Joe Edwards spent about a week in orbit as the pilot on a space shuttle mission. During a medical exam after his return, a flight surgeon brought him lemonade, and asked him to remove his shoes. Sure enough, as he reached down to take his shoes off, Edwards released the paper cup (then spent a few minutes wiping up).
U.S. Marine Corps Colonel and NASA astronaut Kenneth D. Cameron recounted a similar experience to MIT's Alumni Association in 2014. Just after returning to Earth, he was in a van being taken to crew quarters and was given some orange juice. So he poured a glass for himself and for a colleague.
"I passed the orange juice... and just… pushed it toward him," Cameron remembered, laughing. "It would’ve worked perfectly in orbit! Made a great mess there thanks to gravity."
Decades earlier, after spending about two months onboard the space station Skylab, astronauts Alan Bean and Jack Lousma reported their own hilarious mishaps soon after coming back to gravity's clutches. Very early on, they both tried 'flying' the same way they would have in microgravity. It didn't work. Lousma also broke a bottle of aftershave when he tried to gently pass it from one hand to the other and it fell in the sink. Whoops.