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Don’t Panic: It’s Towel Day on the International Space Station

Watch astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti read from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

by Becky Ferreira
May 25 2015, 4:05pm

Few authors are more adored than Douglas Adams, who was hands-down the funniest writer in science fiction history. (Don't even try to argue this point. You know it to be true.) Though his unexpected death on May 11, 2001 came as a tragic shock, the years since have cemented his legacy as an apex humorist, committed activist, and an all-around awesome dude.

Case in point: Towel Day. Since 2001, Adams fans have commemorated his life and work by carrying towels with them every May 25, in reference to some key advice dispensed in chapter three of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. But this year's celebration is particularly special, because the holiday has now officially made it into outer space—a development that surely would have delighted Adams.

In a clip released by the European Space Agency this morning, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti reads the relevant passage of the Guide while casually floating around in the International Space Station. Needless to say, the reading is a must-watch for Adams fans.

"A towel," Cristoforetti reads, "is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough."

A fan celebrates Towel Day 2009 with the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Credit: Julian Hammer

"More importantly," she continues, "a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have 'lost.' What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with."

And finally, here is the coup de gras, which Cristoforetti left out: "Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in 'Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is.' (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)"

So whether you are celebrating this holiday on this mostly harmless planet or you are angling to spread it all the way to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, we bid you a splendid Towel Day. May we all thrive to be the hoopiest froods we can be, and props to Cristoforetti for really knowing where her towel is.

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Douglas Adams
towel day
Samantha Cristoforetti
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy