Fact Check

Did NASA Astronaut Wear Gorilla Costume for Space Station Stunt?

Footage shared online showed the costumed astronaut burst from a bag and chase a colleague.

Published March 24, 2024

 (NASA)
Image Via NASA
Claim:
A NASA astronaut once surprised his crewmates by wearing a gorilla suit onboard the International Space Station.
Context

Former astronaut twin brothers Mark and Scott Kelly arranged for a gorilla suit stunt aboard the International Space Station that crew members knew about in advance. But it was Scott, not Mark, who was recorded wearing it in space, contrary to some social posts.

Since 2016, claims have spread (archive) on social media (archivethat former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly sneakily "smuggled a full gorilla suit on board the International Space Station" (archive). A Reddit post from 2023 says he then put it on without warning anyone: 

Astronaut Mark Kelly once smuggled a full gorilla suit on board the International Space Station. He didn't tell anyone about it. One day, without anyone knowing, he put it on.
byu/alwanfilm inBeAmazed

Mark Kelly has a twin brother — who also was an astronaut — named Scott Kelly, and numerous posts on social media claimed the same thing about him: 

Though this really did happen, posts like those above muddled some of the details surrounding the #SpaceGorilla stunt. Mark and Scott Kelly planned the gorilla suit incident together, and everyone on the International Space Station crew was told about it ahead of time. Mark Kelly, who wasn't on the ISS at the time, arranged to have the suit sent from Earth to Scott Kelly, who was the one who actually wore the suit in the video. 

Both of the Kelly brothers posted on X about it. We dug through Mark Kelly's X (formerly Twitter) timeline and found that he originally posted the video on Feb. 22, 2016 (archive): 

Scott Kelly posted (archive) it the following day, and had received more than 23,000 likes:

Our newsroom then searched through the NASA archives and found a recap of the #SpaceApe debacle posted by the space agency on Feb. 4, 2020. It confirmed other news accounts that said Mark Kelly arranged to have the suit sent from Earth to his twin brother aboard ISS

To surprise astronaut Scott J. Kelly for his Feb. 21, 2016, birthday during his one-year mission aboard ISS, his twin brother astronaut Mark E. Kelly arranged for the delivery of a life-size gorilla costume to the station. In addition to some mild-mannered shenanigans while wearing the gorilla costume that he posted to social media, such as chasing fellow Expedition 46 crewmember Timothy N. Peake through the Destiny module, [Scott] Kelly also recorded some educational videos dressed in the non-standard garb.

As Scott Kelly told People in January 2022 (archive), the entire stunt was planned — and his fellow astronaut Tom Peak, who was also shown in the video, wasn't surprised:

That's all staged. That's why he's floating around, swimming in air, we wanted it to look funny.

It was the end of my year in space … so you need a little humor.

Tagging onto his out-of-this-world primate fame, Scott Kelly even posted an educational video to X on Oct. 16, 2017, (archive) while wearing the #SpaceGorilla suit, explaining "what happens when you cry in space." 

Mark Kelly, who became a U.S. senator from Arizona, retired from NASA and the U.S. Navy in June 2011 after 10 years of space flights, according to his NASA profile. Scott Kelly was first selected by NASA in 1996 and retired from the space agency after 20 years of service.

Sources

"Astronaut Scott Kelly Reveals Real Story Behind Video of Him in Gorilla Suit Aboard Space Station." Peoplemag, https://people.com/human-interest/astronaut-scott-kelly-reveals-real-story-behind-viral-video-gorilla-suit-aboard-space-station/. Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.

"Home | U.S. Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona." Senator Mark Kelly, https://www.kelly.senate.gov/. Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.

"Https://Twitter.Com/CaptMarkKelly/Status/701918950678892544." X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/CaptMarkKelly/status/701918950678892544. Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.

"Https://Twitter.Com/StationCDRKelly/Status/702239878323372032." X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/StationCDRKelly/status/702239878323372032. Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.

"Https://Twitter.Com/Stationcdrkelly/Status/919971753320964097?Lang=en." X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/stationcdrkelly/status/919971753320964097?lang=en. Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.

"Https://Twitter.Com/Todd_Spence/Status/1480256216618049537." X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/Todd_Spence/status/1480256216618049537. Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.

Space Station 20th: Celebrating Birthdays on ISS - NASA. 4 Feb. 2020, https://www.nasa.gov/history/space-station-20th-celebrating-birthdays-on-iss/.

Madison Dapcevich is a freelance contributor for Snopes.