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Any Exciting Adventures With Customs?

Buzz Poole
10/18/2011 - 00:00

If you recall, back in August I discussed the growth of space tourism. While several carriers exist, an issue related to such travel that was never raised, and which I didn’t think of, was filling out customs forms. Most, if not all, countries require citizens and visitors to fill out such forms if international borders have been crossed. So what it you cross intergalactic borders, or just pop up to the moon? Turns out in the US at least, it has always been customary for astronauts to complete customs forms.

The image above of this Apollo 11 customs form, provided by Space.com, has been making the rounds on the internet. Filled out by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins at the Honolulu Airport on July 24, 1969, items declared include moon rock and moon dust. The very existence of this legitimate form smacks of bureaucratic absurdity. Just look at the given place of departure: “moon.” But on the more serious side of things, when asked of “any other condition on board which may lead to the spread of disease,” the crew answered “to be determined.” This reveals a bit of black humor from the legendary crew that first went to the moon. After returning to earth, the three were quarantined in a trailer for three weeks (these days astronauts disembark from a shuttle as if getting off a plane.

I once made the mistake of declaring some commercial samples that had made it into my luggage after an international trade fair. Customs at JFK flagged me and while there was absolutely no issue with anything in my luggage, the wait in the inspection line drove me nuts. As I stood there and stood there, watching inspectors unpack huge boxes and unravel countless items from wads and wads of paper, I told myself that I’d never declare anything again. That said, I look forward to the day when I find myself deciding whether or not I should mention that I have over $10,000 in cash on me.

With customs on my mind, I can’t resist mentioning photographer Taryn Simon’s Contraband series. From animal parts to counterfeit money orders and illegal performance-enhancing drugs, the 1,075 photographs taken at a US Customs Inspection Site and USPS International Mail Facility, both located at JFK, are fascinating. All of the confiscated objects are shot on a white background. Things like drugs and knock-off bags are straight-up illegal, but it is interesting to see those bits and pieces of home that visitors try to bring with them, like a special sausage or herbal remedy.

I wonder if astronauts would really declare a special elixir or any other unexpected discovery. Do you have any exciting adventures with customs?

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