Before he returned to Earth on the Space Shuttle for the last time, Andrew Feustel got something stuck in his eye. On earth, a couple tears would have solved the problem—unlike Chuck Norris, astronauts can apparently shed tears—but the thing is, in zero gravity, the tears “don't fall off of your eye . . . they kind of stay there.” Which makes sense, again, because there’s no gravity.
The story got shared around a fair bit, because, most of us probably hadn’t thought about the difficulties of weeping at the sheer beauty of the cosmos. But it got us thinking about what else you might not be able to do in space.
This breaks down into two categories, just as it would on Earth: there are things you physically can’t do, and then there are things you’re not allowed to do.
Most importantly, pizza is impossible in space. According to an article on ABC pizza doesn’t freeze-dry or dehydrate very well. As far as native New Yorker and astronaut Mike Massimino is concerned, “Someone would get a Nobel Prize if they can figure out how to get pizza in space.” The article also suggests that there is no ice cream in space, but I, for one, have had at least two bags of astronaut label freeze-dried ice cream from the science museum gift shop. So, this pizza claim should be taken with a grain of salt, or at least a shake of oregano.
While pizza is a physical impossibility, some things are just off limits. For instance, emailing word documents as attachments has been verboten since 2006, when NASA grew concerned about the security risk posed by .doc email attachments to official computers. Word docs were banned after Microsoft issued a security advisory saying that “Vulnerability in Microsoft Word Could Allow Remote Code Execution,” obviously something that might have negative consequences somewhere as remote as the ISS.
Praying is generally discouraged, after NASA was sued for the whole Apollo 8 / Genesis incident. Buzz Aldrin received communion while on the moon, but did so with his radio off. In the case of a Muslim astronaut aboard the ISS in 2006, the Malaysian space agency gave him advice on religious practice in the form of a guideline for performing the Islamic rites at the space station, and adapted classical legal opinions on religious practice during travel to the new context of outer space.
Also forbidden, sorry to report, is sex with another person. Obviously, close quarters, a professional environment, and, heck, being in space are good justifications for the ban. Justified or not, it remains forbidden fruit of the most tantalizing kind. Which isn’t to say it hasn’t been tried, but no one’s telling.
Which is too bad, because, among other things, the science suggests that is it not a good idea to get pregnant in space. Apart from gravitational hurdles, a paper on the hazards of radiation in a Mars colonization scenario published in the Journal of Cosmology suggests that intergalactic radiation poses a major threat to conception in space, both from a fertility and a mutation standpoint. Without actual tests it’s hard to say for sure, but it certainly seems like getting pregnant lies on the impossible side of the divide.
Another deterrent to physicality is bodily smell: because you can't do laundry in space—water's way too valuable to waste on that—astronauts wear the same outfit for the duration of their mission. That makes tending to other bodily functions in a timely manner important. While you can go to the bathroom in space (with some difficulty of course), a cosmonaut once raised a stink (figuratively, one hopes) when he was temporarily prohibited from using the American toilet on the International Space Station.
Sadly enough, U.S. astronauts can look forward to following someone else’s space rules for a long time to come. Given the scrapping of the space shuttle program, we’ll be left buying tickets to the ISS on Russia’s Soyuz rocket. Though, that could at least be good news for space-boning.
And then, there is perhaps the most famous example of “no you can’t” in space:
Did the U.S. Lose the Sex-In-Space Race?
Space Technology Historian Jim Mayberry: Our Advances Have Fallen Way Short
And on the subject of the impossible: A Brief History Of Possibly Obsolete Time Travel Paradoxes
A version of this post originally appeared on June 4, 2011