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Items Taken Into Space Reflect Accomplishments on Earth


Items Taken Into Space Reflect Accomplishments on Earth

The Wright Flyer got only a few feet off the ground during its maiden 
flight in 1903, but traveled to the moon 66 years later.

A lead cargo tag that took months to cross the Atlantic Ocean from 
England to the nascent colony at Jamestown recently made the same 
crossing in minutes.

Astronaut Jim Reilly with R2-D2 and a lightsaber from Star Wars. Image 
right: Astronaut Jim Reilly helped welcome R2-D2 and Luke Skywalker's 
lightsaber from Star Wars to the Kennedy Space Center. The lightsaber is 
being taken into space aboard the real-life spacecraft Discovery during 
mission STS-120. Photo credit: Lucasfilm
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Now a plastic handle whose sole role was to make the fictional world of 
Star Wars look realistic is ready to take a real trip to the stars 
aboard space shuttle Discovery for mission STS-120.

 From pieces of history to articles of pop culture, the assortment of 
items astronauts have taken with them into space is as varied as the 
world the artifacts represent.

Most of the objects find esteemed homes when they return, such as a 
stuffed teddy bear that STS-116 Commander Mark Polansky took into orbit. 
The bear was a replica of one owned by a Holocaust survivor. The 
astronaut returned the replica to a museum after the flight for its 

The lightsaber used in Star Wars Return of the Jedi was packed for 
space. Image left: The lightsaber prop that was used by Lluke Skywalker 
in Return of the Jedi was packed in foam and will spend two weeks in 
orbit. The flight helps celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of 
the original Star Wars trilogy. Photo credit: Lucasfilm
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For the Star Wars prop, a lightsaber handle that was used by Luke 
Skywalker, even the send-off was celebrated. Actors dressed as 
characters including Chewbacca and X-wing pilots escorted the item to an 
airport in California for the flight to NASA's Johnson Space Center in 
Houston, where it was packed into a shuttle locker and taken to NASA's 
Kennedy Space Center in Florida for loading aboard Discovery.

Astronaut Jim Reilly, who flew three missions and has conducted eight 
spacewalks, said there is a symbolic tie between the lightsaber and the 
real-life work NASA does in space.

"There's a kind of a fine line between science fiction and reality as 
far as what we do and it's only just time really because a lot of what 
we're doing right now was science fiction when I was growing up," he 
said. "I think it's a neat link because it combines two space themes all 
at one time."

The lightsaber will spend 14 days in orbit on mission STS-120, but is 
not expected to leave the locker during the flight. It will be returned 
to Star Wars creator George Lucas' film company after the mission.

It will not be the first time a Star Wars-related item has gone into 
orbit, though. Reilly said astronauts have taken small Star Wars toys 
into space with them when asked.

"Toy mementos, things like a Star Wars toy that might have meant 
something in their life, so there are any number of things that might be 
just a little out of the ordinary," he said.

A piece of the Wright Brothers' first powered airplane was carried to 
the moon. Image right: The crew of Apollo 11 took a swath of fabric and 
a small piece of a wooden strut from the Wright Flyer to moon. The 
Wright Flyer was the first successful powered aircraft. Photo credit: 
Mark Avino, National Air & Space Museum

More solemn markers have also accompanied astronauts. For example, 
Reilly's STS-117 mission carried a medal earned by a World War II pilot 
who died in the war.

Patches, flags and medallions are routinely carried by the dozens or 
more on each flight, with some going on display and many going as awards 
to shuttle workers and VIPs.

"I think it makes it real," astronaut Rick Arnold said. "I lived in 
several countries and I think it's nice to be able to present one of the 
flags that flew on our mission to those host countries as a thank you."

Arnold has been picked to fly aboard STS-119 in 2008, and is just 
starting to contemplate what to take with him to mark the occasion.

"There's not a lot of room for personal items," he said.

Wedding rings and other small tokens are often taken into orbit. They 
are small enough to fit and large enough to have meaning. Each crew 
member is allowed to take about two pounds of mementos on their flight, 
but they must fit in a comparatively tiny area.

Astronaut Stephanie Wilson is taking a sheet of music from the Boston 
Symphony Orchestra onboard Discovery for mission STS-120. The music 
comes from Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," a favorite in the orchestra's 
extensive repertoire. Wilson worked at one time in a music store in 
Tanglewood, Mass., which is the summer home of the orchestra.

Some items never leave space, notably mission emblems like those stuck 
to the walls inside the International Space Station.

This lead cargo tag is believed to have been discarded from a shipping 
crate or trunk arriving at Jamestown in about 1611. Image left: This 
cargo tag made of lead was unearthed during excavation of the original 
colony at Jamestown in Virginia. It is believed to have made the trip 
from England to the New World in 1611, and made the trip going the other 
way in minutes aboard space shuttle Discovery during STS-117. Photo 
credit: NASA

Another example is a golf ball astronaut Alan Shepard carried to the 
moon on Apollo 14 and hit with an improvised club.

Moonwalker Charles Duke left a portrait of his family on the lunar surface.

Thousands of signatures have also gone into the solar system in the form 
of computer codes imprinted on compact discs.

Whether they go into space to stay or to be appreciated anew back on 
Earth, the artifacts manage to find a unique home.

"When you get the chance to deliver that stuff back to your family and 
friends, they're really excited about it," Reilly said.

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