Ep. 649: Why Does Everything Happen on Holidays?

Have you ever noticed that significant space and astronomy events seem to happen during holidays? It’s not a coincidence, there’s actually a reason why. Today we’ll talk about some of the key events that happened during holidays.

Show Notes | Transcript

Show Notes

Webb Space Telescope (NASA)

The Launch – Webb/NASA (NASA)

Apollo 8: Christmas at the Moon (NASA)

Viking 1 – Mars Missions (NASA JPL)

40 Years Ago: STS-4, Columbia’s Final Orbital Flight Test (NASA)

Voyager 1’s Pale Blue Dot (NASA)

About – Hubble Servicing Missions | SM2 (NASA)

Mars Pathfinder | Missions (NASA)

Canada Day (Canada.ca)


Spacewalking Astronauts Gift Space Station with Christmas Eve Cooling Pump Fix (Space.com)

P/Shoemaker-Levy 9 (NASA)

Galileo and Cassini Image Two Giant Plumes on Io (NASA JPL)


Cassini-Huygens (NASA JPL)

Cassini’s New Year fly-by of Iapetus (ESA)

Deep Impact (EPOXI) (NASA)

STS-121 Launch and Landing (NASA)

AGU Fall Meeting 2022 (AGU)

241st AAS Meeting (AAS)

New Horizons enters safe mode 10 days before… (The Planetary Society)


Arrokoth (2014 MU69) (NASA)

What Happened to Comet ISON? (NASA)

China National Space Administration



NASA Television (NASA)

Chelyabinsk meteor: 9 years ago today (EarthSky)

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(This is an automatically generated transcript)

Fraser Cain [00:01:49] Astronomy Cast episode 649 why does everything happen on the holidays? Welcome to Astronomy cast. Our weekly fact space journey through the cosmos, where we help you understand not only what we know, but how we know what we know. I’m Fraser Cain, I’m the publisher of Universe Today. I’ve been a space and astronomy journalist for over 20 years. With me is Doctor Pamela Gay, a senior scientist for the Planetary Science Institute and the director of Cosmic Quest. Hey, Pamela, how are you doing? 

Pamela Gay [00:02:16] I am doing well. I am super excited that this is our penultimate show. 

Fraser Cain [00:02:24] Our penultimate show. 

Pamela Gay [00:02:26] And next week. So normally we would like end the season with the show that we recorded before 4th of July, but with J ust his images coming out next week, we’re hanging on a little bit longer than normal. 

Fraser Cain [00:02:39] Yeah, so we’re going to stick around for two extra week, two extra shows and be able to talk about the images of the first images from from James Webb, but will be a couple of days late in when we record it because the images are coming out on the 12th, so we’ll probably be recorded on the 13th and then, but I think it’ll the episode also come into your hands at roughly the same time, so you don’t need to worry about it. But we will be changing our schedule for and if you want to watch the show live, we’ll be changing the schedule so that we will be able to talk about it after the fact. So, so stay tuned for that. It will be this season will definitely go out with a bang. 

Pamela Gay [00:03:19] Hopefully not with a bang. Hopefully more with pretty pictures. 

Fraser Cain [00:03:23] Sure. I metaphorically. Have you ever noticed that significant space and astronomy events seem to happen during the holidays? It’s not a coincidence. There’s actually a reason why. Today we’ll talk about some of the key events that happened during holidays and the underlying rationale. Now, when you describe this idea for a show, I was skeptical. And then you mentioned a bunch of events and underlying rationale, and now I’m starting to come around. But I had never noticed this. But clearly you have. Oh, great. 

Pamela Gay [00:04:05] So so for me, it’s it’s been like my entire career, I have been explaining to family members why I can only sort of celebrate the holidays with them, because my career requires me to sacrifice almost every holiday to science communications. And I am only one of many, many humans around the world who fall into this sad category of disappointing our loved ones over and over again for science. 

Fraser Cain [00:04:43] Let’s let’s provide some big examples before we talk about what’s going on here. And like the the most recent big one has got to be the launch of James Webb. 

Pamela Gay [00:04:55] It was. 

Fraser Cain [00:04:56] Christmas Day. 

Pamela Gay [00:04:57] And that one wasn’t actually scheduled as a holiday ruiner. It just turned out to be a holiday ruiner. So yes. And in December 2021, j ust he tried over and over to launch before Christmas and various things just kept not going. Right. And we ended up with a stupidly early in the morning on Christmas Day launch. And I, for one, decided I was going to sleep through it because I had reached that point in my career. 

Fraser Cain [00:05:32] And it was like, like even stupid, clearly earlier for me. Yeah. Because I’m Pacific Standard Time, so I think it felt like it was like three in the morning. I was up covering. 

Pamela Gay [00:05:46] Five something here for you. Not up. Yeah, yeah. 

Fraser Cain [00:05:50] So I was covering the launch of James Webb at three in the morning on Christmas Day. And, you know, like, Christmas Day is not a big deal in this house. It is mostly just a regular day now. You know, now that the kids are out of the house, you know, we use this as a chance to sleep in. Did not get a chance to sleep in. 

Pamela Gay [00:06:14] And this is an almost 50 year tradition. It’s almost a 60 year tradition. It’s it’s it’s a it’s a tradition since 1968 with Apollo eight, where they circled the moon for the very first time in a piloted spacecraft on Christmas Day, giving us all the quotes that we see used over and over and over. And they didn’t have to launch so that they were orbiting on Christmas Day. This was a purposeful decision, that these astronauts would risk their lives and potentially die for the holidays. 

Fraser Cain [00:06:55] Right. So now let’s. So. So if James Webb was an accident. Yeah. And you mentioned Apollo eight. Give him give me some other examples of launches or mission major mission events that happened during a holiday. 

Pamela Gay [00:07:10] So. So Viking one was supposed to launch on New Year’s 1976, for the bicentennial, and it failed. Things go wrong sometimes. And then it was supposed to land. 4th of July. Didn’t quite make it, but that’s okay. Instead, in 1982, on 4th of July, the space shuttle landed, as t as four, which was the last test flight of the space shuttle on Independence Day with Ronald Reagan right there in California to to Adeboye, the space shuttle program and say it is now regular flights ahead. And. And it just keeps going from there. Valentine’s day 1990. We had Voyager one take the pale blue dot photo. And. And I just kind of love the poetry of they could have picked any other day. But basically Voyager one wanted to say, I love you, man to the planet Earth and took a photo of us on on Valentine’s Day. 

Fraser Cain [00:08:21] Didn’t know. Did they take the picture on Valentine’s Day or did they release the image on Valentine’s? 

Pamela Gay [00:08:25] They took the photo on Valentine’s Day. 

Fraser Cain [00:08:27] Okay. All right. Keep going. 

Pamela Gay [00:08:31] Okay, so we have Valentine’s Day 1997 with Hubble servicing mission two’s first Eva. So sharing some love with Hubble and 4th of July 1997, we had the Sojourner rover and the Pathfinder lander. That was, for me, a graduate school event where I really started to realize they’re doing it on purpose, aren’t they? 

Fraser Cain [00:08:59] No, it was at the landing or the launch. 

Pamela Gay [00:09:01] That was the landing site. So they they manipulated their schedule to make sure that landing of Pathfinder with little Sojourner rover that I have seen compared to the size of a corgi, which delights me to no end. That was timed for 4th of July, with NASA essentially doing an all hands on deck to celebrate this success as we returned to Mars after this huge time period where there really weren’t that many planetary missions. 

Fraser Cain [00:09:36] Now, I don’t understand the why the 4th of July is an important day. I mean, that’s three days after Canada that I know. Why does that matter? Well, how was that important? 

Pamela Gay [00:09:47] Any arms involved with Sojourner? So it wasn’t as important for Canada. And so here they were heading for U.S Independence Day with NASA missions. 

Fraser Cain [00:09:58] Right, right. 

Pamela Gay [00:09:59] And and it’s it’s really part of of NASA being called on to share the excitement, the knowledge of what we’re learning and so much more with the American public as part of their well being part of the US government. So when you have an American governmental thing, administration, you’re gonna celebrate 4th of July. It’s just the way it goes. 

Fraser Cain [00:10:31] I’m sure you’ve got more. 

Pamela Gay [00:10:33] I do. So Christmas 1999 was the the space shuttle’s final ever servicing mission. So that was kind of. Happy Christmas, everyone. Have a space telescope. I just love that that idea wasn’t the last servicing mission. It was the last Eva of that servicing mission in 99. There were two more that weren’t on holidays, it turned out. But, that that 1999 one sure was. And as we start to enter the century, we start to enter a lot of, hey, let’s do this over and over with various missions. 

Fraser Cain [00:11:23] So the conspiracy theory deepens and let’s see how far this rabbit hole goes. 

Pamela Gay [00:11:29] So, so as as we enter the 2000s, a new emphasis, comes down for we shall release on social media, new media, all the forms of digital media. We shall live stream all these space goodness. And and this is something that really started to happen with Shoemaker-Levy nine. But it took technology a few years to catch up and catch on. And it was in, in 2001 where everyone is really starting to at least have heard about the internet. A lot more people are on it. And the Cassini flyby of Jupiter with io transiting in front of Jupiter. That was a New Year’s 2001 gift to the world that came to us from both the European Space Agency and NASA, all shiny and bright and wrapped up for us. 

Fraser Cain [00:12:31] But like, do you think. 

Pamela Gay [00:12:32] They planned. 

Fraser Cain [00:12:34] To have that flyby happen? Really? 

Pamela Gay [00:12:37] Yes, they they actually juggle the trajectories just enough to have things. These things occur on holidays. And part of the reason they do this is when you’re reporting information to at least NASA. I’m not quite sure how it works for the European Space Agency. You have to produce how many people were impacted by your event. You have to say how many people saw this. And if you have your random encounter occurring on a random Tuesday. 

Fraser Cain [00:13:13] Yeah, at four in the morning. 

Pamela Gay [00:13:14] Right, right. You’re not going to get as many eyes on what’s happening now. Holidays are typically slow news days. It’s easy to reach out and say to all of the big media platforms, hey, we have this thing that’s happening on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day. Can you help us and create a media storm around something as simple as a flyby? And. Orbital dynamics is fairly insensitive in the outer Solar System to plus or minus a few days, which makes it possible to schedule things like this. 

Fraser Cain [00:13:59] Yeah. Right. And you have your launch window time. You have your and then even like if you miss your launch window by a day, the spacecraft is still going to be doing a flyby within a 24 hour period. 

Pamela Gay [00:14:15] Well you just adjust your firings and you can catch things up or slow things down as needed with small maneuvers. 

Fraser Cain [00:14:26] That’s crazy. After they would that they would, they would use a little more fuel to make sure that they get their fly by or a little less, but they get their fly by happening during a time when they’re going to get a lot of minute. But I mean, you’re absolutely make sense. I mean, you what do you do? You release good news on a Monday. He reads bad news on a Friday, I think up. 

Pamela Gay [00:14:50] And you release a spacecraft on a holiday. 

Fraser Cain [00:14:53] On a holiday? Yeah. You released news about a spacecraft, and I think, I mean, I remember working and, you know, I worked at an internet development company back for the Sojourner landing. And so I remember tracking that with great interest. But it was you just refresh CNN or you refresh NASA’s website and see any new information. 

Pamela Gay [00:15:15] But but they got you there. Refreshing. You were a statistic for sure. 

Fraser Cain [00:15:21] And but now we here we are at like peak live stream. And you can go watch a NASA mission and see 100,000 people watching some event happening simultaneously. It’s it’s kind of crazy how and that is just going to be gigantic impact for for NASA and for ESA and all of these groups that are working together. So, you know, if people are not quite convinced that there’s some kind of theme, do you have more of these examples? 

Pamela Gay [00:15:51] Oh my goodness, yes. And Cassini is is one of the major to blame. One. So so Christmas 2004 was the day they released the Huygens probe. They could have released it earlier. They could have released it later. They released it Christmas Day 2004 and they did it. So it was timed to actually hit the prime time news Christmas Eve here in the United States. So we had a Christmas Eve, Christmas Day. Hogan’s release, followed a few days later by New Year’s with Cassini doing an amazing flyby of Iapetus. It was just like, yes, we shall do the things. And and so Cassini really said, this works. Look at all the attention we’re getting. And pretty soon just about everyone else started paying attention to that. You remember Deep Impact when it hit Tempel one. That was that was a holiday. 

Fraser Cain [00:16:54] That’s crazy. 

Pamela Gay [00:16:56] So. So that was 4th of July, 2005. All of the American space community was like another holiday where NASA makes something go boom, right? Yeah. It’s what they do. They make things go boom. And and with the space shuttle, we saw a whole lot of holidays celebrated. But for them, I think other than that, that 4th of July. And now we have fully tested the space shuttle. I think for the space shuttle program. The other one that was really important was 4th of July 2006 when the discovery went up. Very much on that day on purpose, because that was the return, the flight after the Columbia accident. And a lot of people really wanted to say we’re back. We’re okay. And, and that’s how you say things like that in March on a holiday when. 

Fraser Cain [00:17:59] Like. 

Pamela Gay [00:18:00] All the journalists can be sad and all of the American population can be watching. 

Fraser Cain [00:18:05] Can be paying attention. Yeah. Crazy. But that’s it, right? That’s got to be all of the examples. Of course not. 

Pamela Gay [00:18:16] It was so. So this is the episode where a lifetime of not again NASA is is coming out. And and like I said, this is done very much on purpose. What what you find when you’re an academic is, is you lose a whole lot of times that other people consider a vacation to your profession. And, and to be clear, it’s not just the missions that ruin the holidays. We have the American Geophysical Union, big meeting every year is usually about the week of December 12th. So you spend all of Thanksgiving madly getting ready for that. The American Astronomical Society meeting is always held both the first week in June, right after Memorial Day, often ruining the Memorial Day weekend. 

Fraser Cain [00:19:11] And right after New Year’s. 

Pamela Gay [00:19:13] And right after New Year’s, often requiring you to travel over New Year’s. 

Fraser Cain [00:19:17] Oh my God, it’s all starting to come. It’s true. 

Pamela Gay [00:19:20] So? So, like, my entire career. Yeah. Every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, every Memorial Day, over and over. And then they just keep taking the 4th of July away with missions. Yeah. So 2015, do you remember what happened? 4th of July 2015. 

Fraser Cain [00:19:42] Again, 4th of July is just a regular day. 

Pamela Gay [00:19:45] Do you remember what was happening June 1st? 

Fraser Cain [00:19:48] No. 

Pamela Gay [00:19:49] They were getting ready to fly by Pluto with the New Horizons mission. It made its closest approach on the 11th, but they really started the hoopla on the 4th of July, as they started to get close enough to release images of the hyper structures. 

Fraser Cain [00:20:07] Yep. We can see the heart. That’s when we think we saw the heart of Pluto, right? 

Pamela Gay [00:20:11] Yeah. 

Fraser Cain [00:20:12] Right. 

Pamela Gay [00:20:13] So? So another holiday gone. This was followed the next year by 4th of July 2016 being when Juno entered orbit of Jupiter. January 1st, 2018. New Horizons did it again. This time it was. 

Fraser Cain [00:20:34] The ultimate tool. 

Pamela Gay [00:20:36] Right. Yeah. It was at Ultimate Bull. And then Christmas Day 2021. And it’s not just NASA. Over the years, we’ve also seen completely random have no good reason to ruin holidays statistically. I guess some holidays should be ruined. Events occurring. Do you remember? A particular comet that liked the holidays. 

Fraser Cain [00:21:06] You know. 

Pamela Gay [00:21:09] Because it was Thanksgiving, which is a U.S. holiday. 

Fraser Cain [00:21:12] Yeah, yeah. Sorry, I don’t understand. Again, Thanksgiving is in October. 

Pamela Gay [00:21:17] Where it belongs. So? So while there were many things that happened on October 10th that I should have pulled all of them, and I didn’t think to do that. Yeah. Thanksgiving, 2013, we had a laptop sitting on our, sideboard in the dining room providing us coverage of comet Ison, because that was the day it came out from behind the sun, and we were all waiting to see if the comet survived and trying to be the comet of the century. 

Fraser Cain [00:21:51] So now you’re telling me that comets are planning for U.S. holidays? I think that’s a bridge too far. 

Pamela Gay [00:21:57] I think that one is just the statistically random. Some holidays are destined to be by events. 

Fraser Cain [00:22:05] Yeah, yeah. I wonder if there’s a similar list of these for the Chinese holidays, like the Chinese New Year. Chinese. 

Pamela Gay [00:22:14] So cool. 

Fraser Cain [00:22:15] Yeah. Right. Then that’s like the big one. But there’s a bunch of other fairly silly holidays. And now China is you got they’ve got their rover on the surface of Mars, they’ve got their orbiter, they’ve got their space station, they’ve got astronauts flying this space station. They’ve got their lunar missions. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re starting to take a page because you go on to Chinese, Weibo and WeChat and things like that. And the amount of people that are watching the news there about various Chinese space exploration events is bigger than what’s happening in the rest of the world. Like, it’s it’s astonishing how much interest there is in, you know, in Chinese missions. 

Pamela Gay [00:22:57] So have you ever been to China during a mission? 

Fraser Cain [00:23:02] No, I’ve never been to China. 

Pamela Gay [00:23:04] Okay, so I just happened to be in China for a conference, during one of their, human space flights. And when we were in Tiananmen Square over by the entrance to the Forbidden Palace, there was this giant, TV billboard. Megatron. And it was showing live video of the astronauts in space. 

Fraser Cain [00:23:35] That’s cool. 

Pamela Gay [00:23:35] Wow. Yeah. So I’m sure that in Times Square they’ve periodically shown spacecraft. But I don’t think they provide general coverage of NASA TV on any of those massive screens. 

Fraser Cain [00:23:49] And it would be interesting if the European Space Agency for various European holidays are having this happen as well to, I guess, boost support for space exploration. 

Pamela Gay [00:24:02] It’s it’s remarkably hard to figure these things out because there aren’t a lot of calendars that go through. And systemically, I list all the dates for all the things. And. A lot of hunting and packing is required to track things down. 

Fraser Cain [00:24:26] But you’re able to search like you’re able to search for significant spaceflight events that happened on, say, July fourths. 

Pamela Gay [00:24:33] And I also remember a lot of these from having to explain for several years. Yeah, why I can’t join people to go out and celebrate. And it’s it’s really ridiculous. It’s in the category of the universe is trying to kill us all, most except lighter. The universe is trying to ruin the holidays. 

Fraser Cain [00:24:55] Yes. 

Pamela Gay [00:24:56] Valentine’s day 2013. Here in the US, it was early in the morning. February 15th in Russia was when the Chelyabinsk meteor came through the app. 

Fraser Cain [00:25:08] Now you’ve gone crazy. You’ve blamed comets. You blamed you blame. You’re blaming comets hitting near-Earth asteroids hitting the Earth. All right. I can’t follow you down there. 

Pamela Gay [00:25:18] So this is not on purpose. This is simply the universe, right? Using random statistics to randomly destroy holidays, but late at night, which is not when you expect your phone to blow up when your husband is in the house with you. Yeah, on Valentine’s Day, my phone blew up with. With many humans saying you need to get out of bed and get on the internet right now. 

Fraser Cain [00:25:43] And then called me. Yeah, I mean, you call me, you never call me on the phone and you call me on the phone and you’re like, do you see what’s happening in Russia? Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. So, so so I guess the point of this story is that a chunk of it is clearly intentionally planned by the mission planners, but also randomness allows coincidences to happen commonly enough for us, for us humans to see patterns where they, they don’t belong. Coincidences are kind of an amazing thing. All right. Well, that was that was super fun, super silly. And I think I hopefully now as we go forward, people will start to notice they’re like, wait a minute, why is this story breaking today? Wait a minute. 

Pamela Gay [00:26:35] It’s a holiday. 

Fraser Cain [00:26:36] Cause it’s a holiday. 

Pamela Gay [00:26:37] Journalists. 

Fraser Cain [00:26:38] Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, nobody left the list anyway. We knew that. All right, well, thank you, Pamela. We’ll see you next week. 

Pamela Gay [00:26:44] Thank you, Fraser, and thank you to all the people out there who make everything we do possible. We are getting ready to go on summer hiatus, and we are so grateful that in the past, most of you have stuck with us through the summer, and we hope that all of you will stick with us through the summer again this year. We will continue to post content on Patreon for all of you this week. Specifically, I would like to thank Gabriel Galvin, Connor, Sam Brooks and his mom, Helga Bjork Hogg, Thomas Astrup, Berry Gowans, Steven White, Jordan Lu, sorry, Jordan Young, Kevin Lyle, Jeanette Wenk, bar André lives. Voll. Andrew. Laska, Venkatesh. Chari, Brian. Cagle, David. Throg the giant. Nothing. Aurora. Lifer. David. Gerald. Schweitzer, will. Hamilton, buzz. Parsec, Juan McCoy, J-f. Rosette, Kakao. Serif, William E Kraus, Robert Plasma, Laura Kettle, send, les. Howard, Jack. Mudge, Joe. Holstein, Gordon. DUIs, Adam. Annis. Brown, Frank. Tippin, Alexis. Richard. Drum, William. Baker, Wanderer M 101 and zero. Chill. Thank you for chilling with us. Zero chill. 

Fraser Cain [00:28:06] All right. Thanks, everyone. 

Pamela Gay [00:28:08] Bové. Everyone. Astronomy cast is a joint product of the Universe Today and the Planetary Science Institute. Astronomy cast is released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. So love it, share it, and remix it, but please credit it to our hosts, Fraser Cain and Doctor Pamela Gang. You can get more information on today’s show topic on our website. Astronomy. Cars.com. This episode was brought to you thanks to our generous patrons on Patreon. If you want to help keep the show going, please consider joining our community at Patreon.com Slash Astronomy Cast. Not only do you help us pay our producers a fair wage, you will also get special access to content right in your inbox and invites to online events. We are so grateful to all of you who have joined our Patreon community already. Anyways, keep looking up. This has been Astronomy Cast. 

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