Spaceflight and Surviving Shark Attacks

Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum

Notebook? Check. Space snacks? Check. Shark repellent? Check. 

Gemini VIII Recovery, NASA, NASA Kennedy Space Center, 1966-03-16, From the collection of: Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum

Yes—you read that right. On early orbital missions, astronauts carried shark repellent as part of their NASA-issued survival kits.

“In the early orbital missions, mission planners weren’t at all sure that the reentry capsule would always come down in the designated splashdown zones,” said Michael Neufeld, National Air and Space Museum space history curator. “Astronaut Scott Carpenter landed 250 miles off course and Gemini VIII was forced down in the Pacific Ocean off Okinawa.”

Freedom 7 Waterproof Matches, 1962, From the collection of: Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum

To prepare for this contingency, astronauts carried survival and signal equipment on their missions in the event they landed outside of the planned recovery area. Along with desalination kits and waterproof matches, Mercury and Gemini astronauts also carried shark repellent.

Shark Repellent, Project Mercury, 1962, From the collection of: Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum

These early survival kits were standard military issue for sailors and aviators in the United States Navy and contained the shark repellent known as “Shark Chaser.” Researchers in the 1940s found that copper acetate was more than 60 percent effective in deterring shark bites for up to six or seven hours—it smelled like a dead shark when released into the water.

Survival kits, or rucksacks, for the Apollo lunar missions differed considerably. Most of the items in the rucksacks were built specifically for the astronauts. Each Apollo spacecraft was equipped with a set of two survival rucksacks that contained items like sunscreen, a survival radio, water cans, and sea marker dye. No shark repellent.

Fortunately, for both early astronauts and ocean enthusiasts, shark attacks are very rare. The U.S. Navy stopped issuing Shark Chaser in the 1970s.

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