Instead of dialing an international number as he had intended to, Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers once ended up calling 911 from the International Space Station, triggering an alert at NASA Mission Control in Houston.
As cited by NPR, Kuipers recalled the accidental misdial in an interview earlier this week with Dutch broadcaster Nederlandse Omroep Stitching, explaining that he had failed to enter one number while he was trying to make an international call. While the interview mainly centered on Neil Armstrong and his 1969 moon landing, Kuipers related the story while trying to explain how easy it is to make calls to Earth from the ISS.
“First you dial the 9 for an outside line, and then 011 for an international line,” said Kuipers.
“I made a mistake, and the next day I received an email message: Did you call 911?”
As a result of his failure to dial “0” like he should have, Kuipers’s 911 call alerted NASA security over at the space agency’s Mission Control Center, who naturally did not find anyone at the room where the call had been patched through.
Speaking to NPR, former NASA Mission Control flight director Wayne Hale explained that ISS astronauts have been able to make calls to family and friends on Earth with the help of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology, which, as noted, is the same technology that allows people to make calls over the internet via Skype and other programs.
“A capability that was built into the ISS, with the rise of Internet phone calls, is the ability for the astronauts in the space station to just dial up anybody that they might want to. Many people have gotten calls from space.”
While National Emergency Number Association CEO Brian Fontes admitted to NPR that people have been misdialing 911 for decades, he told the publication that Kuipers did not follow proper protocol when he committed the slip-up. Fontes stressed that people should stay on the line even if the call was made by accident, as 911 operators might mistakenly assume emergency and dispatch personnel are already present at the scene.
Aside from Andre Kuipers’s unintentional 911 call, British astronaut Tim Peake also committed a faux pas of his own while aboard the ISS in 2015, as he dialed the wrong number and asked the woman on the phone if he was calling “planet Earth.” Peake would later issue an apology via Twitter, stressing that he was not trying to make a prank call as the woman might have assumed.
Although NPR did not specify when his accidental emergency call took place, BGR noted that Kuipers had two stints aboard the International Space Station, including an 11-day stay in April 2004 and a longer one from December 2011 through July 2012 where he was a crew member for two consecutive expeditions.