Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kooky Stuff Flown in Space


Each crew member of Space Shuttle mission is allowed to take one kilogram (about two pounds) of memento items along with them, provided they fit into a tiny compartment set aside for such use. This is how things like Buzz Lightyear action figures make it on board, despite strict weight restrictions. On each flight, many flags, patches, and medallions are also flown, along with nationally-sponsored specialty items, such as the recent banner from Yellowstone National Park.

Star Wars Light Saber
Shuttle Discovery STS-120 flew the light-saber used by Luke Skywalker (actor Mark Hamill) in "Return of the Jedi." In honor of the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars film franchise, Chewbacca (actor Peter Mayhew) presented the famed movie prop to NASA, whereupon it was flown to Texas and displayed for a time at Space Center Houston. It continued it's journey to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it was packed into a Shuttle locker and spent two weeks in orbit. George Lucas attended Discovery's launch, and the light saber was later returned to Lucasfilm Ltd. for display in a traveling exhibit.

May the Mass-multiplied-by-Acceleration Be With You. And if you get that joke, you're a huge nerd.

Jamestown Colony
Shuttle Atlantis STS-117 flew a lead cargo tag from "Yames Town", a 400-year-old artifact excavated by archaeologists in 2006. This particular item had made a trip across the Atlantic Ocean around 1611, along with European passengers destined for Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas.

In honor of the 400th anniversary of the founding of this first colony of the New World, the metal plate was packed aboard Atlantis in 2007, and took 219 orbits around the Earth – this time crossing many oceans in a fraction of the time! The tag is now in the Archaearium, the historic Jamestown museum in Virginia.

Liberty Bell Dimes
In July 1961, Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom took a roll of 50 Mercury-head dimes with him aboard Liberty Bell 7, America's second space mission. He had initially planned to pass the currency to personal friends and their children, but his capsule lost its hatch and took on water, sinking in 15,000 feet of water. After a 14-year search southeast of Cape Canaveral, Liberty Bell 7 was found by Oceaneering International, Inc. in 1999... with Grissom's parachute and the roll of dimes still inside. One might have thought after 38 years, they would have dislodged and floated away! The Liberty Bell dimes are on display at the Cosmosphere and Space Center museum in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Amelia Earhart and Eileen Collins
Less famous and quirky, but among my personal favorites, is how a rookie astronaut named Eileen Collins took Amelia Earhart's scarf on her first spaceflight aboard Shuttle Discovery STS-63. Colonel Collins would, of course, go on to become the very first female Shuttle pilot and the first female Shuttle Commander, on STS-84 Atlantis and STS-93 Columbia, respectively. She would also be Commander of STS-114 Discovery prior to her retirement.

Want to OWN something FLOWN? Many organizations, such as SpaceFlori, Farthest Reaches and The Space Store, sell metal craft fragments, pieces of shields and tiles, washers, nozzles, on board checklists, suit and seat materials from all eras of NASA missions. (Please note I am in no way affiliated with any of these organizations, and gain nothing for recommending their sales. Just tellin' ya what's out there!)