Space, the final frontier of tipping

Among the other vexing questions of etiquette: what to wear and where to position the napkin.
Crosscut archive image.

Charles Simonyi drinking water on the International Space Station. (

Among the other vexing questions of etiquette: what to wear and where to position the napkin.

Microsoft billionaire and Eastside resident Charles Simonyi found his 10-day space voyage to be exciting and fascinating. I would not be excited and fascinated. I'd be worried about tipping. Tour guides expect a tip. Especially if they are closeted with you for 10 days. Should I tip my two fellow cosmonauts aboard the Soyuz capsule? And also the three-person crew at the International Space Station? Stiffing either the blast-off crew or landing crew from Kazakhstan could be both dangerous and bad form. Then there is the mission-control group outside of Moscow. Where does the tipping stop? How much to tip? I Googled "tipping in space" but received no guidelines. I don't want to be a gauche American leaving 25 percent tips. Maybe the 10 percent to 15 percent range is right. Since the trip cost $25 million, leaving 12.5 percent to each of five groups – cosmonauts, ISS crew, launch crew, landing crew, and mission control - brings total tips to more than $15,625,000. This still sounds excessive. If I ask about tips, I'm sure to get the answer, "Whatever you wish. Anything you can give will be appreciated." Maybe service is included. I should have checked the contract. In this case, I need to leave only a pour boire of 3 percent. Still, that totals $3,750,000, which buys a lot of boire. Even if I solved the tipping problem, I would be anxious about other matters of deportment and etiquette in space. For example:

  • Dress: Silver is not my color and my face has always looked small in a bubble headpiece. I would want to remove my space suit as soon as possible. But what should I wear underneath? Is this is one of those hip European affairs where everyone wears black? If so, I'll look like a jerk in khakis and a button-down shirt. What about shoes? I read that in Hollywood the coolsters are wearing flip-flops to business meetings. What if everyone on the International Space Station is wearing flip-flops and I'm in penny loafers?
  • Offending people: How do I answer ISS member Sunita Williams if she asks, "Does this space suit make me look fat?" Will I insult the Russians if I ask, "Can I drink the water?"
  • Table manners: Where do I place my napkin? In his blog,, Simonyi reported, "Eating is easy. Sometimes small pieces fall off the fork, but they keep floating and are very easily caught with the mouth." With food floating upwards, should I secure my napkin to the brim of a hat?
  • Family: Should I bring the kids? They are old enough to enjoy it, but if I bring children, so will others. I'll probably be seated next to a two-year-old who screams unbearably during take off and reentry.
So no space tourism for me. Maybe I'll try a week in Detroit.   

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