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One Direction's Recent NASA Trip, Explained

One Direction fans are searching for answers after one of the pop phenomenon's members, Niall Horan, announced on Twitter last week that the group will soon be taking a break. Although the split supposedly won't take effect until next March, after the band concludes its current tour and releases its fifth album, it will reportedly last at least a year. In the eyes of many fans, that might as well be forever.

“It’s the first time of there being some uncertainty, of not having things planned out beforehand, since they were 16 years old,” one of the band's main producers, Julian Bunnetta, told Billboard Tuesday. “There was definitely a vibe of making [the album] the best it can possibly be, and knowing it has to last as long as it needs to until we make another record — if we make another record.”

However long it lasts, news of the break led to mass heartbreak on social media, reflected in trending hashtags like #1dsplit. Another, #5monthswithoutzayn, flashed back to another source of the breakup rumors, Zayn Malik's departure from the group back in March. Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel had some fun with the whole thing on Monday's show, conducting an amusing text conversation with his (alleged) 13-year-old niece and having little trouble deciphering her emoji-laden responses.

Truthfully, 1D's pending split should have been obvious the moment they released the video for their latest single, “Drag Me Down.” Filmed earlier this month at Houston's very own Johnson Space Center, the four-minute clip features the four remaining One Direction members undergoing various astronaut-training exercises, including test-driving the same model vehicle as the Mars Rover; cavorting on the tarmac outside a huge hangar; and eventually blasting off into the heavens, all under the watchful eyes of Mission Control.

Naturally, the guys managed to slip in and out of town without a single confirmed 1D sighting, or even so much as a stray Instagram post or under-the-radar Snapchat channel. When the whole shoot went down, the group's Houston fans came under fire from their fellow Texans for not revealing their exact location, or the “pics or it didn't happen” theory; the rest of the fan base viewed the idea of an impromptu visit to Houston too improbable to be true in the first place. Then again, the group probably has the sort of nondisclosure agreement that could get someone shipped off to Guantanamo, so that might also explain how they were able to come and go so stealthily. (A coworker simply likened them to “ninjas.”) But it could also stretch a lot deeper than giving Harry, Niall, Louis and Liam a chance to interact with what looks like a full-on NASA-made android. (Creepy.)

Filming a video would be the perfect cover for One Direction to take advantage of some of the opportunities a visit to the JSC that might be a little less glamorous than putting on a spacesuit, but are ultimately a lot more useful. Think about it: four-plus years of nonstop touring, literally being chased by packs of screaming girls all over the planet, would leave even the hardiest 21- or 22-year-old male exhausted. And where better to learn some stress-management strategies than NASA, which has been training people to excel under the most extreme and punishing conditions imaginable since the early 1960s? Surely the world's leading jet-setting boy band could find plenty of good advice in the conclusions of a 2004 study called the Ames Fatigue Countermeasures Group:

The NASA Ames Fatigue Countermeasures Group studies the effects of sleep loss and jet lag, and conducts training to counter these effects. These fatigue countermeasures can improve flight crew performance and alertness. Fatigue research has been conducted in a variety of aerospace environments and simulations, including the Space Shuttle. Recently, the group worked with the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Surface Operations team to minimize the effects of fatigue while working on “Mars time.”

What is a boy band (or any band) at its core besides a flight crew of entertainers? Among the reams of other documents on NASA's Web site, there are even some tips on how to nap more effectively:

Napping as a fatigue countermeasure in maintenance may face resistance from airlines and regulators. However, informal napping arrangements are known to already occur during maintenance nightshifts as a countermeasure to extreme fatigue (Rhodes, Lounsbury, Steele, & Ladha, 2003). One airline reported that it provides beds to let maintenance workers nap at the end of their shifts before driving home.

Proper use of stimulants like caffeine is also encouraged:

Caffeine has a half-life in the body of around five hours, and shiftworkers should be careful to avoid caffeine in the hours leading up to sleep. An exception is where caffeine is intentionally taken immediately prior to a brief nap. The alertness-enhancing effects of caffeine do not occur until approximately 30 minutes after the caffeine has been consumed, leaving a brief window in which a useful nap may be taken.

There's even some advice for learning how to use those tricky wireless headsets that are mandatory pop-star stagewear nowadays; just substitute “performer” for “pilot” and “producer/director” for “Air Traffic Control” here:

3-D audio enhances the quality of audio that pilots may hear over their headsets when working in noisy aerospace environments. Airline pilots must react quickly to auditory warning signals and instructions from Air Traffic Control. 3-D audio allows greater separation of the multiple audio sources a pilot hears through the headset. It also creates greater situational awareness for pilots through the use of directional sound.

In light of the past week's events, it seems likely that One Direction went to JSC not only to film a video, but to meet with a team of NASA experts in stress relief and fatigue management; perhaps a few dietitians were on hand to advise the band on the optimum Red Bull intake as well. There's still a long time before that hiatus kicks in, and a lot of money to be made, so maybe they needed a little boost to get through this last stretch; you know those poor guys have got to be pooped by now. In the end, their trip to Houston may even turn out to be the thing that held One Direction together.

Hey, as much secrecy as surrounded the whole trip, it all could have happened. But if ID's fans have trouble buying that, they can at least take heart in the fact that they still had a much better week than the global stock market.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray