When the Curiosity rover landed on Mars a few weeks ago, you may have noticed numerous jars of peanuts on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers’ control boards and workstations during their jubilant celebration. This led many to wonder why the engineers enjoyed so many jars of peanuts and why were they in little commemorative jars?
Passing out jars of peanuts before every mission has been a Jet Propulsion Laboratory tradition since 1964. They are considered good luck among the engineers. It started when the Labs funding was in limbo after six consecutive Ranger missions failed to successfully land on the Moon.
Before the launch of Ranger 7, there were rumors circulating around NASA that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s funding would be cut. There were even conspiracy theories surrounding a potential launch failure and sabotage when a worker found a small polyethylene bag with screws and lock washers sealed inside of the electronic modules in Ranger 7’s television subsystem.
So to ease the tension, the mission manager Harris Schurmeier handed out jars of peanuts. He thought giving the engineers something to chew on or play with could focus their attention back on the success of the Ranger 7 mission, instead of on potentially losing their jobs.
After a long string of failures, on July 28th 1964 Ranger 7 successfully landed on the Moon and was able to do its job and photograph the lunar surface. After the mission, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers considered peanuts to be their good luck charm and a new tradition was born.