Despite being proponents of logic and reason, scientists, researchers and other professional academics are a surprisingly superstitious lot with a multitude of confusing and often bizarre traditions. Here’s a list of 5 of our favorites, starting with….
5. NORAD tracks Santa
This is perhaps the most famous entry on this list, so it’s the one we’ll start with. For anyone unfamiliar with it, basically each and every year since 1955, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, better known simply as NORAD, tracks the location of Santa, in real time, for all the children of the world.
This tradition actually started by accident in the ’50s when a newspaper incorrectly listed the number for a NORAD based in Colorado as a number children could call to talk to Santa. As the legend goes, an amused Air Force commander, who clearly had nothing better to do, rather than telling his men to hang up on the kids instead gave the order to give a rough location of where Santa was to anyone who called. Thanks to that commander’s goodwill, it’s tradition for NORAD to track the location of Mr Kringle for millions of kids across the world.
4. When a probe lands, NASA technicians eat handfuls of peanuts
Over the years, like Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 2, NASA has probed a lot of planets to discern their secrets. Unlike Commander Shepard, however, NASA eggheads celebrate not with a sexy rendezvous with an attractive alien (yet), but with a big ol’ handful of peanuts.
The tradition goes back to the 1964 when an absentminded technician opened a massive jar or peanuts during the Ranger 7 mission (an unmanned probe sent to the Moon). As the name suggests, the Ranger 7 was the 7th probe sent to fondle the Moon’s surface but has the honor of being the first successful one. NASA technicians, being the paragons of logical reasoning they are, attributed the success to the peanuts and now eat them before every probe landing for luck.
3. When a rocket or probe launches successfully they also eat lots of beans
Oh yeah, along with eating lots of peanuts it’s also apparently a tradition to eat lots of beans every time a rocket launch is successful.
The tradition again goes back to the ’60s, and is described by NASA technicians as a “way to blow off steam.” Specifically, to allow people from across the NASA hierarchy to chow down together to foster team morale. It’s also presumably an excuse to make an unbelievable amount of “prepare for liftoff” themed fart jokes the next day.
2. Cosmonauts pee all over the bus that takes them to the launch pad
If you thought NASA was superstitious, Russian cosmonauts will blow your freaking mind. Before leaving for orbit, Russian cosmonauts must complete a laundry list of seemingly trivial tasks, including planting a tree, carving their name into a door, and peeing all over the wheels of the bus that takes them to the launch pad.
Cosmonauts do this to honor Yuri Gagarin, the original cosmonaut, who is said to have done all of these things prior to liftoff himself. Cosmonauts take these traditions so seriously that female cosmonauts have been known to carry bottles of their own pee to throw at the bus’ tires prior to launch so they, too, can honor the world’s first spaceman. You know you’re famous when decades later women carry bottles of their own pee to honor your memory.
1. Scientists at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Research Station watch The Thing
The Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station represents one of the harshest and most remote working environments known to man. Before working there, researchers must go through a series of psychological exams to make sure they can deal with the idea of essentially being trapped at an arctic research base. So how do the scientists and researchers at the base celebrate when they begin a several-month-long winter shift? By watching The Thing. You know, that film about an alien monster murdering a bunch of people trapped at arctic research base.
To be fair, the tradition is more tongue in cheek than anything. However, the real scary part is that, as per tradition, the researchers have to watch all three versions of the film, including the god-awful 2011 prequel.