Space is full of mysteries and surprises, but it also has become, unfortunately, a dumping ground for our space junk.
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we learn all about the weirdest things we’ve sent ‘afar’.
Apart from the usual junk you’d expect, like astronaut gear or parts of satellites and spacecraft, we’ve launched a few truly strange objects into space – and often not on purpose. Here are five of the weirdest, according to a May 2023 report in the US-based science news website LiveScience:
1. An electric car and its driver
In February 2018, SpaceX launched South African billionaire Elon Musk’s own cherry-red Tesla Roadster into space. He opted to use his own car as the test payload on the maiden mission of the Falcon Heavy rocket. The car was launched with its very own spacesuit-clad dummy passenger, dibbed ‘Starman’. Although the car was supposed to orbit Mars, it massively overshot the planet and is now stuck in an orbit around the sun, taking about 557 days to complete the loop.
2. Maintenance hole covers
In 1957, the US military conducted a number of nuclear tests in the Nevada desert, in a project called Operation Plumbbob. Of the 29 nuclear detonations, two were carried out underground to see if nuclear fallout could be contained. In one of them, when an atomic bomb went off at the bottom of a 500-foot-deep hole, the explosion blew the four-inch-thick iron cover into space. In another experiment a few months later, camera footage confirmed this to be true, when another cover shot into space after a detonation, at a top speed of 201,000km/h – five times the escape velocity of Earth.
3. Presidential hair
On February 20 this year, which is known as President’s Day in the US, a Texas-based company called Celestis announced it would be putting locks of former US presidents’ hair on board the upcoming Enterprise mission. The company specialises in space burials, and will include genetically verified hair samples from George Washington, John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, along with some of the cremated remains of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
4. Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber
The original Star Wars trilogy, from the 1970s, is widely credited with inspiring a whole generation of astronauts and scientists. So, it’s no wonder that one of the films’ famous props – Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber – ended up in space. It was launched in 2007 with a team of astronauts, who delivered and assembled the Harmony module to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch coincided with the 30th anniversary of the first film in the Star Wars enterprise.
5. Giant disco ball
In 2018, US-based aerospace manufacturer Rocket Lab secretly launched an enormous multi-sided mirror into space, on one of its company’s test flights. Dubbed the Humanity Star, the giant sphere was around three feet wide and featured 65 reflective panels. It quickly rotated in orbit around Earth, and was even visible to the naked eye because the panels reflected sunlight. The disco ball satellite was positioned to be “a bright symbol and reminder to all on Earth about our fragile place in the universe”, according to Rocket Lab’s website.