The ban, which came into force as a ‘temporary measure’ in 1962 after an unfortunate improvised humourous outburst during Wally Schirra’s flight on Mercury-Atlas 8, has been under growing criticism from civil rights groups and comedic entertainers’ unions. The policy was changed in 1995 to a ‘Don’t Laugh, Don’t Tell’ policy – but still with heavy restrictions on overt tomfoolery.
The Soviets experimented with clowns in space during the 1960s and 1970s, although in an notorious incident in 1967 two of them were left to burn up during re-entry, officially due to a -heat-shield malfunction’, but allegedly after Krushchev didn’t much care for their ‘weightless’ custard pie performance.
NASA has previously claimed that technical restrictions were behind the 49-year block – that bulbous red noses and large frizzy fake hair were incompatible with contemporary space suit design, that buckets of water were not safe in a zero-gravity environment and that unicycles were not appropriate vehicles for exploring the lunar regolith.
With the retirement of the Space Shuttle, the last US spacecraft designed without the needs of clowns in mind, NASA are finally able to start planning for the clown-friendly spacecraft of the future.
Some lament the loss to the space program due to the ban on clowns. One NASA employee commented, ‘Imagine if Neil Armstrong had said ‘It’s one small step for man’ while wearing huge clown feet, sliding uncontrollably down the steps and going arse over tit on the lunar surface while Buzz Aldrin sat in the command module providing the ‘Ba-dum – Tisssch’. Now that really would have been historic comedy gold.’