'Friends in High Places': Internet Laughs as Man Rejects Call From Space

We've all ignored a phone call—whether you're busy with something else or not keen on answering an unknown number, it's a common part of modern life. But one Reddit user shared how he screened a very faraway call this week before realizing what he had done.

Reddit's popular r/tifu subreddit stands for "Today I f***ed up," and is a space for users to share their mistakes with others. Posting on Tuesday, user EmpatheticApatheist shared their story that now has more than 56,000 upvotes and thousands of comments.

He wrote: "A friend of mine is currently on his second mission to the International Space Station (ISS). I saw a call come in on my phone and the caller ID said 'U.S. Gov.' I first had that feeling you get when the principal calls you to their office."

The Redditor explained he was in the middle of something with a few other people. He showed them the ID they all told him not to answer it. "Between everyone's suggestion and my gut feeling of being in trouble, I sent it to voicemail," he wrote.

But it turned out it was a particularly special long-distance call: "Turns out it was my buddy calling from space," he said: "I had a chance to speak to someone that wasn't on Earth and screwed it up."

The International Space Station is a modular space station in low Earth orbit. Launched in November 1998, it is 357ft long from end to end and flies around the Earth every 90 minutes, traveling at an amazing 5 miles per second.

Space station screened call
International Space Station (ISS) in orbit in outer space, and inlay of an unknown call being rejected. A man has shared how he accidentally screened a call from his friend who is onboard the International Space Station. dima_zel/Christian Horz, Getty Images/NASA

Because of the speed the station moves at, it is impossible to track using ground stations. To maintain a data link, NASA has a small constellation of satellites known as Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) that enable constant communication between the ground and orbiting satellites with similar speeds to home fiber internet connection.

Unfortunately, it isn't possible to call the ISS yourself. With no phone numbers in a traditional sense, the station has an internet-based phone system that works through a computer. Using this they can call any number on Earth, but phones back home cannot call them back.

EmpatheticApatheist told Newsweek: "I had no idea this would blow up like it did. Feels like I was able to bring a little bit of joy to some people during a time of so much turmoil."

Reddit users were amused by the unusual story and headed to the comments to react. One user joked: "Those long-distance charges 'bout to be insane," while another said: "I feel like it's almost cooler that you have a voicemail from someone calling from space since you can save it."

"No matter how many f*** ups you have in life, big or small, you have a friend who looked out at the whole of Earth and decided to call you," said another Reddit user.

Another comment joked: "We've been trying to reach you for your extended space shuttle warranty," while another user wrote: "You definitely have friends in high places."

UPDATE 6/1/22, 10:30 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include comment from the original poster.