Good-luck peanuts made their first appearance at the Jet Propulsion 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," said Dick Wallace, a 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.
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. Plenty of peanuts were on hand when Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004.
Superstition? "I hope not," said Wallace. "Not in this bastion of logic and reason."