Feature | April 21, 2016

Lucky Peanuts

Color image of men smiling with peanuts on the table.

Lucky peanuts were on hand at Cassini's Saturn Orbit Insertion in 2004.

Good-luck peanuts made their first appearance at the Jet Propulusion Laboratory's Space Flight Operations Facility in 1964 during the Ranger 7 mission. JPL had six failures prior to this effort, so the pressure was on to succeed. The Ranger 7 launch day arrived and with it came the peanuts.

I thought passing out peanuts might take some of the edge off the anxiety in the mission operations room. The rest is history.
- Dick Wallace, Mission Trajectory Engineer

"I thought passing out peanuts might take some of the edge off the anxiety in the mission operations room," said Dick Wilson, mission trajectory engineer on the Ranger team. "The rest is history."

Ranger 7 performed flawlessly, as did its successors, Ranger 8 and 9. They returned pictures and helped pick the landing sites for the Apollo moon program. The peanuts have showed up on informal countdown checklists for most every launch since then.

On a few occasions, the peanuts didn't make it for launch day. In once case, the spacecraft was lost soon after launch. In another, the launch was delayed for 40 days, and only took place after the lucky peanuts were delivered to the mission team.

Someone forgot lucky peanuts for the first Cassini launch opportunity. Peanuts were on hand for the successful October 15, 1997 liftoff.

Up until the Voyager mission, the peanuts showed up only at launch. Nowadays, they are often seen in mission control facilities during critical mission stages such as orbit insertions, flybys and landings, or any other event of high anxiety or risk.

Superstition?

"I hope not," said Wallace. "Not in this bastion of logic and reason."