How 'The Big Bang Theory' Sent Howard Wolowitz to Space (2023)

By Robert Z. Pearlman

published

Howard Wolowitz is not an astronaut, but actor Simon Helberg played one on TV.

How 'The Big Bang Theory' Sent Howard Wolowitz to Space (2)

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(Video) The Big Bang Theory - Howard goes to Space

  • Scavenging for space parts
  • Wireless weightlessness
  • Attention to accuracy
  • Additional resources
  • Bibliography

As seen on the popular CBS sitcom "The Big Bang Theory" (now in syndication), the fictional Wolowitz (Helberg) was shown floating on board the International Space Station (ISS), serving as a member of the station's Expedition 31 crew, during the first four episodes of the show's sixth season.

Of course, Wolowitz was not really on the space station. The real ISS Expedition 31 ended three months before the episodes first aired in October 2012. Rather, Helberg was on a sound stage at the Warner Brothers studio lot in Burbank, California.

Helberg's spacecraft surroundings never orbited Earth, but they did play previous host to the Energizer Bunny for a Super Bowl commercial and were seen in the 2004 feature film "The Day After Tomorrow."

But Helberg's, or rather Wolowitz's crew did include a real-life NASA astronaut, Mike Massimino, and, further blurring the lines between art and life, the fictional Expedition 31 crew patch that they wore on the show placed Wolowitz's and Massimino's names side-by-side.

Related: Watch astronaut Mike Massimino build a lego Mars shuttle in zero gravity

Behind the scenes, the job of delivering Wolowitz to the orbiting outpost didn't fall to a Russian rocket, but rather to production designer John Shaffner, set decorator Ann Shea and their teams.

Scavenging for space parts

As it turns out, you can rent a space station, but not a Russian spacecraft.

When The Big Bang Theory's fifth season finale called for Wolowitz to launch on a Russian Soyuz capsule, Shaffner went looking for one.

"The first thing that we always do in this business is ask, 'Well, can we rent it? Did somebody make one first?' And unfortunately, we discovered that there weren't any Soyuz replicas to be found," Shaffner told collectSPACE.com in an interview.

For the Soyuz, Shaffner and Shea received photos from NASA, turned to a Kansas museum to find dimensions and scavenged parts from an aerospace junkyard in Los Angeles to piece together a realistic capsule.

In the course of his seeking out the Soyuz, however, Shaffner found a space station.

"So when the call came this summer from the producers that we need the space station, I was able to immediately say 'Well guess what? No fear. Let me make sure we can put it on hold,' which I did immediately," Shaffner recalled.

From the outside, WonderWorks' space station set for rent looks more like an elongated shipping crate, but inside are the replica science and equipment racks, panels and hand holds that form the general layout and appearance of the real space station's laboratory module. Shea's challenge was making it look lived in, like the orbiting complex.

(Video) The Big Bang Theory - All Howard Moments In Space

"I collected things that looked like what was in the actual space station," Shea told collectSPACE. "I watched the video of the station probably 20 times, trying to pick out all these different things and there were so many surprises in the stuff you saw attached to the walls with velcro so they wouldn't float around."

"There were camera lenses for some reason, there were toothbrushes, pens, family photographs and lots and lots of different cases of things," she said. "They even had this sort of Halliburton case, or it looked like a Halliburton case, that was a food warmer, somehow — I can't imagine how that worked. So, I got one of those and we labeled it 'food warmer.'"

Wireless weightlessness

With only 20 feet or so (6 meters) of space station set to work with, Shaffner got together with the directors, visual effects supervisors and cinematographers to use unique camera angles and creative framing to create more 'space' than there really was.

They also added a section to the rented module to allow other actors — the other station crew members — to enter and exit, giving viewers a sense that a sprawling outpost continued beyond the lab.

"We really examined ways we could reimagine the spaces we added," Shaffner said.

Part of that was made possible by the way they achieved the appearance of weightlessness. Rather than raise the roof and suspend the actors by wires, the solution came from below.

"It was done by supporting the people from underneath," Shaffner said. "There was a very long, sort of skinny platform that a person could lie on and it would almost look like they were swimming through in weightlessness."

The actors also deserve some credit, said Shaffner, for mastering the motions of microgravity.

"They studied and really did a remarkable job with acting the weightlessness," he said.

Attention to accuracy

Having a real astronaut on the set offered a chance for some immediate feedback. Massimino reprised his role on the show for a couple of the "space"-based episodes.

"His response was immediate and really positive," Shaffner said of Massimino's impression of the spacecraft. "He was so blown away by [the set]. He said, 'Wow, you guys really did an amazing job! This really feels like it. This is really how big it is, it is not very big.'"

"He was very, very appreciative and I think in the end that made everyone involved feel extra good about it," said Shaffner. "We had all pulled together to make this real for him and he got a really big kick out of it."

Beyond wanting to please Massimino, the attention to accuracy was rooted in the show's long commitment to serving the storyline by being honest and truthful with its visuals.

"We are all very committed to making sure that we don't want ever the set or the visual environment to not make you believe the story, to take your interest and your mind out of what the characters are living through and start questioning authenticity," Shaffner said.

"So we work very hard on creating our authenticity, and it is a theatrical authenticity to some extent. But by really looking and researching and trying to make it honest and authentic, we believe it helps the storytelling," he said.

(Video) International Fake Station VS The Big Bang Theory TV Series #NASA LIES #F

Additional resources

You can read more about The Big Bang Theory's space station storyline, including an interview with astronaut Mike Massimino and a behind-the-scenes look at the show's fictional Expedition 31 mission patch, at collectSPACE.com (opens in new tab). All twelve seasons of "The Big Bang Theory" can now be streamed on-demand on HBO Max.

Bibliography

"The Countdown Reflection." The Big Bang Theory, created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, season 5, episode 24, Warner Bros. Television/CBS, May 10, 2012.

"The Date Night Variable." The Big Bang Theory, created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, season 6, episode 1, Warner Bros. Television/CBS, Sept. 27, 2012.

"The Decoupling Fluctuation." The Big Bang Theory, created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, season 6, episode 2, Warner Bros. Television/CBS, Oct. 4, 2012.

"The Higgs Boson Observation." The Big Bang Theory, created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, season 6, episode 3, Warner Bros. Television/CBS, Oct. 11, 2012.

"The Re-Entry Minimization." The Big Bang Theory, created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, season 6, episode 4, Warner Bros. Television/CBS, Oct. 18, 2012.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.

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FAQs

Why did they make Howard go to space? ›

In season 5, Howard finally makes it to space on a NASA expedition. This storyline made Howard TBBT's main character because it was the biggest opportunity any of the characters had received.

Did Howard Wolowitz go to space? ›

Howard and Bernadette get married on the roof of the apartment building with all 5 of their friends, ordained as ministers to marry them. He then takes off to outer space from Russia with his friends and new wife watching ("The Countdown Reflection").

What episode of The Big Bang Theory does Howard go to space? ›

"The Countdown Reflection" is the 24th and final episode of the fifth season of The Big Bang Theory. It first aired on CBS on May 10, 2012. It is the 111th episode overall. In the episode, featuring astronaut Mike Massimino, Howard and Bernadette get married before Howard goes to space.

How long did Howard go to space? ›

The real Expedition 31 was aboard the International Space Station from April 27 to July 1, 2012.

Why does Howard always wear an alien pin? ›

Given this, he operated on the notion that his dad's disappearance was somehow tied to extraterrestrials. The alien pin symbolized this hope; granted it sounds childish, Howard and the rest of the boys were not exactly immune to having an illogical mindset.

How much would Howard Wolowitz make as an engineer? ›

Considering Howard's education and the relatively young nature of his career, we can assume he makes the national average for an aerospace engineer, which is around $89,000. While his friends technically make a good deal more than him, Howard's income is still above the national average.

Do Howard and Bernadette get divorced? ›

In the final season, Bernadette and Howard seem to have found their perfect balance. They have come a long, long way from the waitress and the womanizer who met nearly a decade prior, and are happily married with two beautiful children.

What is Howard Wolowitz IQ? ›

IQ Score: 140

Howard is a genius, there is no doubt about that. He is a brilliant engineer, went to space, and went to one of the best schools in the country.

What did Howard Wolowitz do in space? ›

1 sitcom in syndication. Four episodes into the sixth season, though, something feels off. The decision to send Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) into space (he served as a payload specialist on the International Space Station) seems to have disturbed the show's planetary rotation.

What episode does Howard go to NASA training? ›

Sheldon wreaks havoc when he tries to get a haircut from his regular barber, who is ill. Howard runs into a few problems with astronaut training. Sheldon wreaks havoc when he tries to get a haircut from his regular barber, who is ill.

What episode does Howard take Sheldon to NASA? ›

After arguing with Sheldon, Howard tries to make amends by taking him to NASA headquarters in Houston.

Who spent longest time in space? ›

Space career

He returned to Earth 240 days later aboard TM-7. Polyakov completed his second flight into space in 1994–1995, spending 437 days in space between launching on Soyuz TM-18 and landing with TM-20, setting the record for the longest time continuously spent in space by an individual.

Who spent the longest time on the space station? ›

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei completed a single mission aboard the International Space Station of 355 days on March 30, 2021.

What was the longest trip to space? ›

The longest individual ESA space missions and cumulative times in space for ESA astronauts. The longest flight by any one astronaut was 437 days, by the Russian doctor Valeri Polyakov on board Mir, 1994-95.

What did the letter from Howard's dad say? ›

Raj told Howard that the letter was a birthday card, saying "Happy birthday, Howard. I love you." Sheldon told him that it was a map to the treasure of One-Eyed Willie, but then Howard points out that he knows Sheldon's story was actually the plot for Goonies.

Why does Wolowitz always wear a turtleneck? ›

Howard Wolowitz from The Big Bang Theory is always wearing a turtle neck because he wants to show off his impressive collection of tie knots. He has over 100 different knots, and each one looks better with a turtle neck.

Why did Penny apologize to Howard? ›

At Howard's house, Penny is announced by his mother as Patsy. Howard doesn't want to see her, but she slips passed his mother anyway. Choosing her words carefully, she tells Howard that she has been informed that he does have feelings, that she hurt them and apologizes for that.

How much is Bernadette salary? ›

Bernadette: Microbiologist ($125,000+)

Fans met her as a student studying for her Ph. D. in microbiology while working at The Cheesecake Factory on the side with Penny.

What was Penny's salary? ›

Current Contract
Contract:1 yr(s) / $5,750,000
Signing Bonus$4,000,000
Average Salary$5,750,000
Total Guarantees$5,070,000
Guaranteed at Signing$5,070,000
1 more row

How much is Sheldon salary? ›

Sheldon's income was likely in the range of $150,000 each year. Leonard was not the prodigy that Sheldon was, but he's still a brilliant guy.

Why is Bernadette barely in season 11? ›

Rauch's maternity leave fell during the midseason break for the series, so she'll be out for only a few episodes. A Season 12 has been ordered for The Big Bang Theory, but it's rumored to be the final one.

Who did Raj end up with? ›

In season 12, he asks his father to find him a wife and he ends up going with Anu.

Why did Bernadette get pregnant twice? ›

If you're wondering why the writers added in another pregnancy for Melissa Rauch's character so quickly, it's because of the actress' real-life pregnancy. Rauch announced in July she'll be expecting her first child with husband and screenwriter Winston Beigel.

What is Penny's IQ? ›

Penny, meanwhile, has an IQ of 97, as CBR reports. It's also worth noting that the show goes out of the way to display Penny as not very bright: “she was dense enough to think the Cold War was fought in winter” and “she didn't even know how to spell Asthma.”

Is Raj smarter than Leonard? ›

Raj is believed to be the third smartest, while Leonard is considered the fourth most intelligent of his friends.

What is Sheldon Lee Cooper's IQ? ›

He has a genius-level IQ of 187. (In The Big Bang Theory, it is said that his and Leonard's IQs add up to 360, and Leonard says his is 173. In Young Sheldon, his mother says that he has the same IQ as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.)

What did Howard do to the Mars Rover? ›

Howard accidentally gets the Mars rover stuck in a ditch while trying to impress Dr. Stephanie Barnett. Stephanie finds herself more interested in Leonard than Howard and dates Leonard instead.

Did Howard finally get his PHD? ›

Unlike Leonard, Sheldon, and Raj, Howard lacks a Ph. D., instead having a Master's degree from MIT (he first studied in medical school but dropped out since he was terrified of blood).

Does Howard ever sleep with Penny? ›

Leonard then clarifies that they did have sex and she lied. Howard claims Penny would've slept with him before Raj if he wasn't engaged to Bernadette. Leonard believes Sheldon would have a better chance with Penny than him.

Why did Raj change his hair? ›

This is the first time Raj's hair is seen as curly since mid-season 2. In this episode, Raj explains that he had been straightening it since he wanted to fit in with Howard. He stopped in this episode after breaking off their friendship.

What episode does Howard become dungeon master? ›

"The Love Spell Potential" is the twenty-third and penultimate episode of the sixth season of the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory.

Did Sheldon ever meet Stephen Hawking? ›

Sheldon finally gets to meet Hawking in person. When they meet, Hawking points out an arithmetic error in Sheldon's paper that makes the whole paper incorrect, causing Sheldon to faint.

Is Howard as smart as Sheldon? ›

When Sheldon begins teaching Howard in a class at Caltech, Howard surprisingly proved that he was just as smart as Sheldon when he wanted to be. Unfortunately, due to him not having his doctorate, he falls behind his best friends and wife, Bernadette.

What episode does Howard cheat on Bernadette? ›

Season 4. "The Hot Troll Deviation"- It is revealed that Howard and Bernadette broke up because she caught Howard having cyber-sex on World of Warcraft with Glacinda the Troll.

How much do astronauts get paid? ›

Astronauts who work for civilian agencies like NASA earn a base salary of $104,898 per year. However, their salaries can increase to $161,141 per year. Furthermore, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said that he would be willing to pay his astronauts up to $500,000 for a trip to Mars.

How long can a human stay in space? ›

To date, the longest continuous amount of time a human has spent in space is 437 days. This feat was lived out by Russian astronaut Valeri Polyakov. When it comes to total number of days spent in space, fellow Russian Sergei Krikalev takes the cake, with over 803 days in space, spread out over six flights.

Do you age in space? ›

Scientists have recently observed for the first time that, on an epigenetic level, astronauts age more slowly during long-term simulated space travel than they would have if their feet had been planted on Planet Earth.

Who spend more than 82 hours outside in space? ›

The world record for the most spacewalks is held by Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev. He made 16 spacewalks for a total of more than 82 hours outside in space.

What was the shortest space mission? ›

2 days, 6 hours, 13 minutes, and 12 seconds – length of Columbia's STS-2 flight, the shortest completed mission to date.

Who spent more than 82 hours in space? ›

The record is currently held by Anatoly Solovyev of the Russian Federal Space Agency, with 82:22 hours from 16 EVAs, followed by NASA's Michael Lopez-Alegria with 67:40 hours in 10 EVAs. This list is current as of March 1, 2022.

What is the fastest a human has ever traveled? ›

The fastest speed at which humans have travelled is 39,937.7 km/h (24,816.1 mph). The command module of Apollo 10, carrying Col. (later Lieut Gen.) Thomas Patten Stafford, USAF (b.

Has a human been to Mars? ›

Long-term proposals have included sending settlers and terraforming the planet. Proposals for human missions to Mars came from e.g. NASA, Russia, Boeing, and SpaceX. As of 2022, only robotic landers and rovers have been on Mars. The farthest humans have been beyond Earth is the Moon.

Which astronaut was farthest from Earth? ›

Fateful Apollo 13. The record for the farthest distance that humans have traveled goes to the all-American crew of famous Apollo 13 who were 400,171 kilometers (248,655 miles) away from Earth on April 14, 1970. This record has stood untouched for over 50 years!

Why did NASA launch squids into space? ›

The microscopic animals can tolerate environments more extreme than most life forms can. This makes them perfect for studying how life responds and adapts to extreme environments. It is hoped that this information can then be used to understand the stress factors affecting humans in space.

What did the astronauts call Howard? ›

He has the unwanted astronaut nickname "Froot Loops" (he had wanted the nickname "Rocket Man" and to that end installed the ringtone for Elton John's song "Rocket Man", but astronaut Mike Massimino overheard Howard's mother telling Howard that his Froot Loops were getting soggy during a NASA Skype conversation and ...

Why did Wally Funk go to space? ›

Wally Funk, a pilot who was denied the chance to go into space in the 1960s because she was a woman, said “I want to go again, fast”, after returning from a successful flight with the Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos.

Does NASA still send animals to space? ›

Fruit flies were the first animals in space, and NASA still sends them to the International Space Station to help us understand how space impacts the human body.

Did NASA ever send a dog to space? ›

Laika had actually survived only about five to seven hours after liftoff before dying of overheating and panic. It was belatedly made known that Laika's pulse rate, which had been measured with electrodes, tripled during takeoff and only came down somewhat during weightlessness.

What happened to the dog NASA sent to space? ›

A stray mongrel from the streets of Moscow, she flew aboard the Sputnik 2 spacecraft, launched into low orbit on 3 November 1957. As the technology to de-orbit had not yet been developed, Laika's survival was never expected. She died of overheating hours into the flight, on the craft's fourth orbit.

Do Bernadette and Howard get divorced? ›

In the final season, Bernadette and Howard seem to have found their perfect balance. They have come a long, long way from the waitress and the womanizer who met nearly a decade prior, and are happily married with two beautiful children.

What is the thing Howard wears under his shirt? ›

Howard constantly wears a turtleneck or dickie underneath his shirt. Amy, being more of a nerd than the other girls, also pretty much always wears a sweater and skirt, although she does mix things up more often than the guys.

What was the secret message on the Mars Rover? ›

Systems engineer Ian Clark used a binary code to spell out “Dare Mighty Things” in the orange and white strips of the 70-foot (21-meter) parachute.

Why is John Carter stronger on Mars? ›

Due to the Red Planet's lower gravity (actually about one-third Earth's gravity), John Carter is far stronger than any Martian, becoming an unstoppable warlord.

Why did the Mars rover fail? ›

Intriguing rocks turned out to be too crumbly for Perseverance to drill successfully. It's moving on to try elsewhere. After drilling into its first rock on Mars but failing to capture it in a storage tube on 6 August, NASA's Perseverance rover is rolling onwards.

Who's the last person who went to space? ›

Eugene A. Cernan

Did anyone in Mercury 13 go to space? ›

The Mercury 13 women were not part of NASA's official astronaut program, never flew in space as part of a NASA mission, and never met as a whole group. Seven surviving FLATs attending the STS-63 launch (1995).

Who was the oldest to fly in space? ›

John Glenn, who was the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, also became the oldest person to reach space when he flew aboard a space shuttle mission more than 35 years later at the age of 77. Unlike Mr. Shatner or Ms. Funk, Mr.

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