Lucky blueberries

02 Jul 2023

At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), there is a tradition for “lucky” peanuts to be present at every launch. The tradition dates back to the early Ranger launches where a series of missions were either delayed or unsuccessful.

  • Ranger 1 (Launched Aug. 23, 1961) Launch vehicle failure; spacecraft could not leave Earth parking orbit
  • Ranger 2 (Launched Nov. 18, 1961) Launch vehicle failure; spacecraft could not leave Earth parking orbit
  • Ranger 3 (Launched Jan. 26, 1962) Radio contact lost; missed the Moon by about 22,900 miles (about 36,800 km)
  • Ranger 4 (Launched April 23, 1962) Onboard computer failed; impacted the Moon on April 26, 1962
  • Ranger 5 (Launched Oct. 18, 1962) Radio contact lost; missed the Moon by 450 miles (725 km)
  • Ranger 6 (Launched Jan. 30, 1964) Reached the Moon but cameras failed; impacted the Moon Feb. 2, 1964

On the morning of the launch for the Ranger 7 mission, a trajectory engineer, Dick Wallace, passed them peanuts in hopes of calming people’s nerves. When this Ranger performed flawlessly, a new JPL tradition took hold, and now peanuts are passed around the laboratory’s mission control centre during critical mission events.

So, what has this got to with lucky peanuts?

When we were preparing for the birth of our first child, we were told early on that first time mothers generally labour longer and that it is critical to stay hydrated and if possible, have small amounts to eat to have enough energy to keep going. In the weeks leading up to the due date, we made sure we had plenty of food for my wife and myself in the event we needed to grab something and go to the hospital during the night.

The big day finally arrived and as planned, I kept asking my wife if she would like to eat anything but each time, she immediately declined saying she didn’t feel like it. I was persistent so about an hour into labour, I offered her some blueberries and instead of declining she accepted.

Not even 6 hours after labour starting, we had our son (at home, totally unplanned). The midwife and attending paramedics were surprised at how calm the environment was and how smooth the birth went given the constraints. It was a pretty amazing time to say the least.

Much like the teams at JPL during critical missions with their lucky peanuts, I know the blueberries didn’t directly impact the outcome given the amount of work and preparation that goes into these type of events but, instead a new tradition to be honoured and carried forth.

So with our daughter due in just over a month, I’ve added lucky blueberries to our shopping list and even if my wife doesn’t accept them to eat this time round, they will be present at the labour. Just like the lucky peanuts.