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Your Captions: Incoming Call

Posted on Fri, November 4, 2016
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We’re coming into the home stretch of our “Caption This” series.

What’s one way to lighten the mood before being blasted 186 kilometers (116 miles) into Earth orbit? Some humor. It’s clear from your captions of this photo you appreciate wit.

  • It's ET calling home collect again
  • The call is coming from inside my suit!
  • Your wife wants you to pick up milk on the way home.
  • Can you hear me now?
  • It's my mom . . . she says I don't have to go if I don't want to.
  • Why does Capt. Kirk get a cordless model?
  • It's the boss, he says there is no bathroom on this capsule!
  • Tell him I'm busy now!
  • This is Earth control to Major Tom.
  • Interplanetary Phone call or just Magic

This photo shows astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. during suiting for the first manned suborbital flight, MR-3 mission.  On May 5, 1961, aboard his Freedom 7 spacecraft, Shepard became the first American to travel into space.

Guenter Wendt, the German engineer responsible for launch pad operations for the Mercury Program (as well as Gemini and Apollo), noted the high degree of stress associated with those early days of crewed spaceflight in his memoir, The Unbroken Chain.

“It did not matter if you were a technician or an astronaut. The stress of the job was considerable,” he wrote. “Everyone seemed to handle it differently, but little gags, “gotchas” we called them, were a common relief valve.”

According to Wendt, Shepard was an “odd mix,” fluctuating between jokes and having the personality of an “iceberg.” In his memoir he shared one prank in which Shepard allowed a colleague to borrow his car and then immediately called security on him.

On May 5, 1961, Shepard appeared to be keeping the mood light. Curator Cathleen Lewis explained  that the photo is likely a joke. A telephone receiver has been rigged to Shepard's real communications connection and, in the photo, he can be seen fielding an "incoming call." Just a little spacesuit humor before the days of Photoshop Lewis said. 

From this angle, you can see the communication connection attached to Shepard’s helmet.

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