The Things They Carried
In addition to astronauts and satellites, the shuttles hauled many mementos into space.
With countless telecommunication flotsam and jetsam drifting there, the space now resembles the Earth’s attic. Space shuttle mission took many a cherish keepsake, both personal and communal, into that shared space: monopoly pieces, the Olympic torch, a replica of the golden spike from the Transcontinental Railroad, and rocks from the top of Mt. Everest and the surface of the moon. The doomed Challenger carried with it a drawing of the earth made by a kid inside a concentration camp during the Holocaust. On the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, a cargo tag from the colony accompanied Atlantis.
There were often corporate sponsors too. Since the very first space shuttle flight in April 1981, M&Ms accompanied every mission, right up to the final one that’s currently underway. In 1985, at the giddy peak of the Cola Wars, Coca-Cola and Pepsi both went up, ostensibly to “test packaging and methods of dispensing the liquids in a microgravity environment”.
In the recent years, as the public support over the shuttle program slowly dwindled, the PR campaigns were stepped up. Luke Skywalker’s original lightsaber, Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, and ashes of Star Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry were sent up, highlighting the fine line between fantasy and reality. For fanboys everywhere, the last shuttle mission will carry an iPhone and an Android Phone skywards.
Sport fans are appeased by a wide variety of memorabilia that went up: the home plate from Shea Stadium, dirt from Yankee Stadium, jerseys if every shape and color, including Lance Armstrong’s Tour-de-France-winning yellow one. An astronaut threw a first pitch via video from the ISS. Three green NASCAR starter flags were included in a shuttle mission that began with: “Gentlemen, start your space shuttle main engines.”