NASA's Secret Space Weapon? Peanuts
Whether most people like to admit it or not, we can tend to be "a little stitious" (as Michael Scott famously said) when it comes to situations where a little luck could help. Sometimes, that means a certain ritual before a big presentation or job interview. For rabid sports fans, sometimes it involves wearing a specific jersey on game day, or only sitting in a specific location on the couch.
For NASA engineers who find themselves on hand for pivotal moments like this week's Perseverance landing on Mars, making sure everything goes off without a hitch not only requires knowledge of rocket science, but a whole lotta peanuts.
The unorthodox tradition isn't a recent phenomenon. In fact, it predates Neil Armstrong's momentous moon walk by five years. It all started during the Ranger 7 mission, staged at the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The first six ranger missions were a failure, so the mood at mission control was obviously a little tense on launch day. That's when Mission Trajectory Engineer Dick Wallace had the wise idea to lighten the mood by passing some legumes.
"I thought passing out peanuts might take some of the edge off the anxiety in the mission operations room," Wallace recalled to NASA many years later. "The rest is history."
Indeed it has been, especially as peanuts would exhibit a weird correlation with a given mission's success in the half a century since. As NASA tells it, the absence of peanuts was observed on multiple failed or delayed launches. In the case of one such event, a launch delayed by 40 days somehow only took place after those lucky peanuts showed up.
Now, those peanuts have become a fixture at every major stage of a Nasa mission, taking on a sort of life of their own. Based on recent tweets, there seem to have been plenty of lucky peanuts on hand at the moment Perseverance touched down.
Despite all that, an organization employing some of the brightest aeronautics engineers America has to offer would never come out and admit that peanuts had any bearing on their performance. Even still, when it comes to making sure an expensive, unmanned vehicle successfully lands on a planet that takes six months to travel to, there's no reason that your snack choices should leave anything to chance.