Astronauts Tell All: The Most Unsettling Things They’ve Experienced in Space

By: Mia Williams | Published: Jan 19, 2023

Exploring the unknown is no small feat. Since 1961, more than 560 brave souls have ventured into space to discover what lies beyond Earth’s atmosphere. From seeing weird things that defy explanation to experiencing eerie chills, these astronauts have encountered some truly bizarre and creepy phenomena over the years.

Are you curious about what they’ve seen? Read on for 20 of the strangest occurrences!

A Six-Time Astronaut With Extraordinary Experiences

Dr. Story Musgrave has stood apart from other astronauts for his remarkable accomplishments; he is the highest qualified man to have entered space and holds six academic degrees, as well as having completed six space flights – an impressive feat! But what’s truly extraordinary about this extraordinary astronaut are some of the strange sightings he claims to have made while out in space.


Source: Alamy

In a 1994 interview, Dr. Musgrave recounts seeing “a snake…six, seven eight feet long” with ‘internal waves’ which followed him for some time during two of his missions; leaving us wondering if there could be other living creatures beyond our planet Earth? It certainly brings up interesting questions and possibilities that will remain unanswered until we explore further into outer space!


A Rare and Mysterious Sight: The International Space Station in Orange

Samantha Cristoforetti, the first Italian to journey into space, experienced a rare phenomenon when she was board Soyuz TMA-15M that approached the International Space Station. Instead of its usual silvery grey colour, it was bathed in an orange hue that looked almost alien!


Source: -/AFP via Getty Images

This strange sight as mystical and mysterious as it truly is has been explained, it is caused by certain sun angles reflecting off of the station’s solar panels. Cristoforetti said, “The enormous solar panels were inundated with a blaze of orange light – vivid, warm, almost alien.” She is one of the very few people who’ve ever seen this occurrence with their own eyes – making her experience even more special!

Astronauts Getting Taller in Space!

Believe it or not, astronauts on the International Space Station grow taller during their stay. According to NASA’s calculations, a six-month mission results in an average height gain of three percent. This effect is reversed upon returning home though; gravity brings bodies back to normal and any increase disappears. 


Source: NASA via Getty Images

One astronaut set himself apart when it came to height gains – Japanese national Norishige Kanai claimed that he had grown 3 1/2 inches after only three weeks on board! However, he soon retracted his statement due to a measuring error and said that the true amount was much less than initially stated – under one inch instead of over three!

The Unexplained UFO Sighting of Astronaut Leroy Gordon Cooper Jr. 

In 1963, American astronaut Leroy Gordon Cooper Jr. became part of history as one of the first people ever to venture into space with his one-man mission aboard Faith 7 spaceship for Project Mercury. During his 34 hours in space circling the Earth 22 times, he achieved a maximum height of 165.9 miles and made an outstanding achievement for the time – but that was not the only thing that made him unforgettableble!


Source: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

Cooper reportedly witnessed something extraordinary while in outer space; a strange object emitting green light flew past at high speed and luckily did not make any contact with the ship – leaving us all wondering what it could have been. To this day, this apparition remains unexplained after more than 50 years!

Mysterious Knocking in Space

In 2003, former fighter pilot, Yang Liwei made history as the first Chinese astronaut to travel into space. Having been selected in 1998 and trained for years, he was finally blasted off aboard a Shenzhou 5 spacecraft by a Long March 2F rocket. During his flight, he managed to orbit the Earth 14 times – but something strange happened during this journey that would leave him perplexed even today. 

Source: Dyor/Wikimedia Commons|CC BY-SA 3.0

The BBC quoted him saying that he heard “someone knocking the body of the spaceship” – despite physical properties meaning there should be nothing but silence in outer space! He looked out of his capsule window too; however, still saw no one or anything around causing this noise. What could have caused it? We may never know…


Space Station Bacteria of Extraterrestrial Origin

In 2017, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov made a remarkable announcement after his second trip to the International Space Station. He revealed that samples taken from the exterior of the station contained bacteria not present during the launch and believed to have originated from outer space! This claim caused quite an uproar within the world of space travel, although NASA remained silent on this matter. 

Source: Alexander Ryumin/TASS via Getty Images

Shkaplerov clarified that these extraterrestrial organisms posed no threat. This discovery sparked curiosity among many who questioned if life forms exist in other galaxies outside our own solar system. Could these little organisms be evidence that extraterrestrial life exists beyond earth?


Identical Twins' DNA Changed After Space Mission

Mark and Scott Kelly are identical twin brothers who have achieved a lot in their lifetimes. Both have been Navy Captains, and both spent time on the International Space Station. But when NASA conducted an experiment that monitored the twins’ DNA while Scott was aboard the Space Station and Mark was on Earth, something extraordinary happened. 

Source: ROBERT MARKOWITZ/AFP via Getty Images

When Scott returned from his 340-day mission he had changed; his DNA was now 7% different to his brother’s! In response to this incredible discovery, Scott said “Who knew?! I no longer have to call Mark my identical twin brother anymore.” The results of this experiment will help scientists better understand how space affects human bodies – particularly their genetic makeup. 


Astronaut's UFO Encounter in Space

In 2004, Vladimir Kovalyonok, a cosmonaut who had spent 217 days in space including time aboard Soviet Union Space Stations, told the news website of an extraordinary sighting he had encountered while at work at the Salyut orbital station. He noticed something strange through one of the portholes and upon further inspection described it to be “the size of a finger”. 

Source: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Kovalyonok claims “My colleague Savinykh prepared to take a picture of it, but the UFO suddenly exploded. Only clouds of smoke were left. The object split into two interconnected pieces. It was reminiscent of a dumbbell.” Kovalyonok was certain what he saw could not have been mere mysticism as there were two witnesses present.


Unveiling the Mysteries of Fire in Space! 

Space is a place full of mysteries and one fascinating enigma among them is fire. on Earth, fire involves hot gasses rising and pulling oxygen in while releasing the fire’s product, However, in space, it behaves very differently. To understand this phenomenon better, NASA has been running an experiment called Flame Extinguishment Experiment (FLEX) aboard the International Space Station for over 10 years now. 

Source: Paolo Nespoli - ESA/NASA via Getty Images

According to Dan Dietrich who works as a researcher at FLEX, molecular diffusion draws oxygen toward the flame and combustion products away from it 100 times slower than what happens on earth due to buoyant flow. Flames also burn at lower temperatures with heptane producing weird spherical shapes instead of the traditional cones or cylinders ones we are used to seeing. 


The Man Who Captured a UFO on Camera 

Musa Manarov was selected as a cosmonaut in 1978, and nine years later he finally flew aboard the Soyuz TM-4 to the Soviet’s MIR space station. During his two missions, he and his colleague Vladimir Titov made history by becoming the first humans to spend an entire year in space.

Source: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

But it was during his second mission in 1991 that something extraordinary happened; while filming the docking of a spaceship at MIR, Manarov captured footage of an unidentified flying object – He is quoted in Shane McMinn’s 2016 book Conspiracies and Solar Secrets saying, “It is possible that it was a kind of UFO. We can’t say with any certainty what it was.” To this day no one knows exactly what he caught on camera – but some believe its proof of alien life. 


Mysterious Flashes of Light From Beyond

Since 1969, when the first manned flight to the moon took place, astronauts have reported seeing unexplained flashes of light while they were in space. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who landed on the moon during Apollo 11’s mission, described these strange visuals even when their eyes were shut. Other members of Apollo 12 and 13 also experienced this phenomenon. 

Source: NASA/Newsmakers/Getty Images

NASA scientists decided to conduct experiments to understand what was causing these lights. After investigation, it was determined that astronauts had seen cosmic rays penetrating into their eyeballs – high-energy sub-atomic particles which are normally blocked from reaching Earth by our atmosphere.


An Astronaut and a U.S Navy SEAL – Christopher Cassidy 

Christopher Cassidy is no ordinary man; he possesses the qualities of an astronaut as well as those of a United States Navy Seal. In 2009, Christopher became the 500th astronaut to venture into space aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle when it docked with the International Space Station (ISS). Three walks at ISS marked a 16-day mission that made an impression in history. 

Source: Amiko Kauderer/NASA

But it was five years later, during his second mission from 2013, that Cassidy reported to Mission Control about spotting an unidentified object floating past the station through one of its portholes. This strange incident gave rise to speculations about him witnessing a UFO until NASA declared “That the object has been identified by Russian flight controllers as an antenna cover from the Zvezda service module.” although some still believe what he saw was indeed out-of-this-world!


Space Facelift with a Side of Headache! 

Marsha Ivins, an astronaut who flew to space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1990 on an 11-day mission, shared one of the stranger things that can happen to someone’s body from being in space. According to her, lack of gravity causes bodily fluids to move towards your head resulting in what appears like a facelift.

Source: NASA/Wikimedia Commons|Public Domain

In 2014 Masha spoke to Wired website and explain that as these fluids shift northwards, the facelift turns into an enormous headache. Fortunately, though, this problem is easily fixed by having a good pee! Hence it can be said that both the ‘facelift’ and its accompanying headache are transient symptoms experienced due to spending time in space without gravity.


Astronaut Leroy Chiao's Extraordinary Sight From Space

Leroy Chiao, a Chinese-American veteran of more than four space missions, is no stranger to the stars. In 2004 and 2005 he flew aboard the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz TMA-5 and commanded Expedition 10 on the International Space Station for more than six months. During this time something extraordinary caught his eye.

Source: NASA/Wikimedia Commons|Public Domain

In 2014 when interviewed by HuffPost about what he saw, Chiao said  “I saw some lights that seemed to be in a line, and it was almost like an upside-down check mark, and I saw them fly by and thought it was awfully strange.” he continued and explained; “I’m sceptical of claims that we’ve been visited by aliens… but I don’t rule it out 100 percent. I have an open mind, and I do believe there’s another life in the universe.” Was this a UFO sighting? We may never know!


Unearthly Music Heard in Space

On May 1969, Apollo 10 made its final reconnaissance mission before the first men stepped on the moon with Apollo 11. Aboard were John Young, Eugene Cernana and Thomas Stafford who tested the Lunar Module without actually landing it. As they orbited around to the dark side of Moon something strange occurred.

Source: SSPL/Getty Images

With no radio contact with Mission Control, a mysterious sound came into their headsets – an eerie whistling music that petrified them so much that NASA kept this noise hidden for almost 50 years until 2016 when recordings of similar sounds from other missions were released by them. According to NASA, it turns out these were just radio interference; However, some think these sounds still remain a mystery.


Space Travel Affects Astronauts’ Legs In Unexpected Ways

Space travel is an incredible achievement for mankind, allowing us to venture beyond the limits of our own planet. However, it seems that even with all the technology available, our bodies are not designed for such a journey and can react in peculiar ways. One bizarre phenomenon involves astronauts’ legs shrinking when outside Earth’s atmosphere! 

Source: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

NASA explains that on earth we use our lower body and legs to carry weight as this helps strengthen them; however since astronauts float around space they do not utilize their leg muscles much leading to weaker back strength and thinning bones over time. To combat this decrease in physical health, it’s essential for those spending prolonged periods out of Earth’s orbit to exercise regularly aboard orbiting space stations.


Astronomical Achievement: John Glenn's Historic Flight 

John Glenn, the first U.S. citizen to orbit the Earth, took off on his historic flight aboard Friendship 7 in February 1962 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. His mission lasted almost five hours and ended with a successful splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean after orbiting Earth three times – a tremendous achievement for its time! 

Source: NASA on The Commons/Flickr|Public Domain

During this journey, he observed an intriguing phenomenon through the window – unidentified specks of light that resembled tiny stars floating around him. He referred to these particles as “fireflies”. Initially, Mission Control worried that there may be something wrong with the spaceship or that he might be hallucinating! Luckily, it was soon identified during NASA’s next spaceflight in May 1962 as harmless droplets of condensation released by their own craft.


The Strange Phenomenon of Time in Space 

Astronauts experience a strange phenomenon when it comes to the concept of ‘time’ while they are in space – no daybreak and nightfall. Instead, the sun goes down and rises again every 90 minutes as they orbit Earth.  This combined with visual disruption from cosmic rays can make regular sleep patterns difficult to maintain.

Source: ESO via Getty Images

In order to keep some sense of structure, astronauts abide by something called Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is an effort to simulate the same-day pattern that we Earth-bound humans experience. Though it may be difficult at times, this ensures that astronauts are able to efficiently carry out their duties in space!


Unidentified Object in Space - James McDivitt's Firsthand Account 

James McDivitt and Ed White made history in June 1965 as the first astronauts to orbit Earth 66 times during their four-day flight on Gemini 4. On that mission, something inexplicable happened – an event McDivitt years later in 1999 described to NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. 

Source: NASA/Wikimedia Commons|Public Domain

He recalled seeing a “geometrical shape similar to a beer can or pop can” outside of his window with “a little thing maybe like a pencil or something sticking out of it.” After viewing photos he had taken at the time, he concluded that what he saw was nothing more than distorted reflections from his porthole glass. 


Adjusting to Earth's Gravity After Space Travel 

When astronauts travel in space, they experience various physical changes. But it’s what happens when they return home that is truly remarkable. Upon their arrival back on Earth, people tend to find that their muscle control and coordination have become impaired due to the lack of gravity present in space. 

Source: Bowers/Getty Images

In 2014, astronaut Marsha Ivins spoke with Wired magazine about how this affects them; she explained “Your balance is off, and you have to relearn how to move in a gravity field. If I turned my head, I would fall over”  and recalled that “It can take days or weeks to get your Earth legs back.” It goes without saying – returning from outer space isn’t quite like coming home after a holiday!