Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Space

Can you parachute from space? Are the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field really 3,720 to one? Let’s find out.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Space! Where does it start? Do service droids know anything about it? And what’s the guy from Angels & Airwaves doing there?

Lie #1: “The Possibility of Successfully Navigating An Asteroid Field Is Approximately 3,720 To 1”

We’ve got a new Star Wars coming out soon (you may have noticed), but let’s launch this edition with one of the classics. C-3PO states the above in The Empire Strikes Back, and he’s talking out of his shiny metal ass. It’s an incredibly specific figure, phrased backwards (it should be “one in 3,720,” or “one to 3,720,” or “the possibility of fucking exploding in an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1”) that only makes sense if all asteroid fields are identical and at least 3,721 attempts have been made to navigate one, with all but one of them failing. Even then, you couldn’t reach a conclusive figure until doing it loads more times. Send 372,000 ships though and get 100 out the other end, and fair enough, you’ve got a probability. Assuming that hasn’t happened, that gleaming idiot should shut his slotted mouth.

And is it even that hard? Our solar system has a big asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. There are about a billion of them in there that are more than 100 meters wide, which sounds like an ass(teroid)-load, but the thing with space is, there’s a lot of it. Astronomer J.L. Galache calculated that there would be one asteroid that size per 33 quadrillion cubic miles of nothing. When the probe New Horizons was sent to Pluto, it had to do exactly what that gold dickhead claimed was so difficult, and S. Alan Stern, principal investigator for the project, described the chance of collision as “almost vanishingly small — far less than one in one billion.” No wonder everyone hated Threepio.

Lie #2: Quitting Blink-182 To Look For Aliens Is a Bonkers Move

More than a few eyebrows were raised when Tom DeLonge, co-frontman of Blink-182, quit the band and launched a hard-to-describe, overambitious-sounding “transmedia franchise.” That was fair enough, really: it sounded kind of nuts. His company, To The Stars Inc. was set up to be part entertainment franchise, part truth-seeking organization, intending to use art, music and fiction to teach people about UFOs.

But there was vindication: Earlier this year, the Navy described objects seen in three declassified military clips sourced by his organization — one from 2004 and two from 2015 — as “unidentified aerial phenomena,” which is pretty much the military acknowledging UFOs. 

To The Stars then signed a contract with none other than the U.S. Army to investigate “alien alloys” they’ve acquired, as well as look into quantum communication and beamed energy propulsion — proper out-there sci-fi stuff. Pretty impressive for a dude who once wrote a song about wanting to fuck a dog in the ass.

Lie #3: A Guy Once Parachuted From Space

Nope! Felix Baumgartner broke loads of records in 2012 when he parachuted from an altitude of 24 miles as part of the Red Bull Stratos project, a feat sold as “falling from the edge of space.” And yeah, 24 miles up is really, really high. Like, ridiculously high. He had to go up in a helium balloon because the atmosphere that high is too thin for a plane to fly in (which is why nobody has ever, for instance, hijacked a plane and flown it to the moon). He broke the sound barrier while falling, it was nuts. But it’s nowhere near space: NASA and the U.S. Air Force have space beginning 50 miles above sea level, while the World Air Sports Federation (or rather, Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) defines it as beginning at the Kármán line, 62 miles above sea level. Still good, though. 

Lie #4: You Can’t Have Spaces In Web Addresses

You can, though — they just look stupid. They can’t be in the domain name, but they can show up in the name of an individual HTML file, like on Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions. That bit where it says “%20” in your browser? That, somehow, is a space. Every letter and symbol that’s generally used is assigned a number in the ISO Latin-1 character set, which browsers use, in which a space is represented by the number 32. In hexadecimal (base 16), that is 20, and the percent sign before it is acting as an escape character, basically telling your web browser, “This next bit isn’t what it looks like.” IS TECHNOLOGY EXCITING OR WHAT?

Lie #5: Space Food Sucks

Dude, space food rules. For a long time we had the idea that it was all Tang and weird Jetsons-esque meals in pill form, but astronauts actually have it pretty good up there. On the International Space Station, they have a menu of about 200 different items, as well as a proper coffee machine. The Russian crew up there have even more variety, with some 300 items on offer, but in 2009 this led to on-board arguments after the Russians’ rich diet led them to do excessively thick shits.

Everything is freeze-dried and thermostabilized so it can last a long time, meaning busy space-people just need to get some hot water involved to have a slap-up feed. Tortillas are apparently very popular up there, as is beef jerky. It’s pretty much the equivalent of microwave meals and 7-Eleven snacks — a bit of an “I’m just going through a rough patch” diet. Delicious!

What’s not so good is space booze. Anything carbonated separates in microgravity, so beer will be flat unless kept under pressure — if it’s kept fizzy, it’ll lead to “wet burps.” Sure, it’s been tried — Buzz Aldrin supposedly drank some sacramental wine on the Moon — but in the 1970s, there were plans to take some hooch to space (a Paul Masson sherry was selected) and it didn’t go so well. Tests in the “vomit comet” didn’t go well, with one astronaut recalling, “The odors released by the wine, combined with the residual smell of years-worth of people getting sick on the plane, had an unplanned effect on the crew. Many grabbed for their barf bags.”

Again, it’s different for Russian crews, who are given cognac to deal with life in space. Plus, there’s a low-carbonation beer being brewed especially for space, and Budweiser is aiming to be the first company to make beer on Mars, so the dream of one day floating through space drunk as a lord lives on.