A remarkable number of odd “things” are flown first-class, other than people looking to travel luxuriously with free drinks, goodie bags, and a little extra legroom. Supposedly, renowned cellist Lynn Harrell travels the globe on two airline tickets, one for himself and one for his $5 million, 300-year old cello. U2 singer Bono reportedly spent $1,700 on a first-class ticket to fly his favorite hat from London to Italy.
NASA’s last space shuttle mission –its 135th -launched on Friday, July 8, 2011. Over the course of 30 years, a remarkable number of oddities have also been launched into outer space, and one can’t help but wonder if Bono joined the ranks of other celebrities and bought a $250,000 ticket on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, would he also buy a first-class ticket for his favorite hat? Only time will tell. But until then, here are 10 of the strangest things flown on NASA space shuttles.
10. Modified Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cans: Space Shuttle Challenger’s STS-51 Mission
It’s 1985. The Cold War is coming to a close, but the cola war is heating up as Coke and Pepsi are in a soft drink arms race to see which brand will conquer America’s tastebuds. Specially modified cans of Coca-Cola were scheduled to be onboard the space shuttle Challenger on its 1985, STS-51 mission. The Coca-Cola company not only wanted to provide carbonated beverages to the astronauts, but it also wanted to observe the effects of spaceflight on changes in taste perception. Needless to say, when Pepsi Co. learned about this covert operation, it wanted to be in on the cosmic cola action, too. In the end, both soft drink companies devised modified cans to test methods of dispensing liquids in a microgravity environment; according to the astronauts, however, the microgravity cola experiment was a failure due to a lack of refrigeration.
9. Jamestown Colony Cargo Tag: The Atlantis STS-117 Mission
In honor of early American explorers, NASA flew a historic, metal cargo tag from the Jamestown colony on an Atlantis mission in June, 2007. The small metal tag, which archeologists say is the colonial version of a modern luggage tag, was unearthed in Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent settlement in the Americas. The tag is etched with the word “Yames Towne,” and it’s believed the metal label was used to mark merchandise that was stored in London before being shipped to the early American settlement in Virginia. The colonial cargo tag was returned to Jamestown at the end of the mission to be displayed in a museum, but not before logging four million miles over the course of four centuries.
8. Amelia Earhart’s Watch: Soyuz TMA-19 and ISS Expedition 24 & 25
The Ninety-Nines is an international organization of women pilots. In 1929, Amelia Earhart served as the group’s first president. In 2010, Shannon Walker, a NASA astronaut and member of The Ninety Nines, was entrusted with the aviator’s historic watch as the Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft launched on a mission to dock with the Zvezda service module. According to Joan Kerwin, director of The Ninety Nines and a member of the organization for 39 years, Amelia Earhart wore the watch during her two trans-Atlantic flights -once as a passenger and once during a solo flight.
7. NASCAR Starter Flags: The Atlantis STS-122 Mission
In honor of NASA’s 50th anniversary and to commemorate the 50th year of NASCAR’s Daytona 500 race, three NASCAR starter flags were packed aboard the Atlantis for its Feb, 2008 space mission. The starter flags spent 11 days in flight as the Atlantis shuttle delivered the science laboratory, Columbus, to the International Space Station. Once the NASCAR flags returned to earth, one was given to the 2008 winner of the Daytona 500, the second flag went on display at the Florida racetrack, and NASA kept the third as a commemorative piece.
6. Home Plate of The New York Mets: The Atlantis STS-125 Mission
Going, going, gone. A homerun out of the ballpark is one way to describe what happened on May 11, 2009. After serving as the home ballpark for The New York Mets from 1964 until 2008, Shea Stadium was finally demolished and the organization moved to the new, $900 million Citi Field in Queens in 2009. However, on the space shuttle Atlantis’ STS-125 mission, which was the last trip to the aging Hubble Space Telescope, the crew took along a piece of hardware from the old Shea Stadium: home plate. The plate returned to earth when the space mission was completed, and it is now on display at Citi Field.
5. Buzz Lightyear: Discovery’s STS-124 Mission
Buzz Lightyear, the beloved space ranger from Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story” Franchise, spent 468 days orbiting the International Space Station. While not quite “Infinity and Beyond,” Lightyear’s mission took him a long way from Woody, Bo Peep, Slinky Dog, and all the other toys in Andy’s room. NASA teamed with Disney to launch the 12-inch action figure into space as part of an educational and public outreach program in 2008. After spending more than a year in space starring in educational videos, Buzz Lightyear missed his family and friends, especially Woody, had a “ground control to Major Tom” moment, and hitched a ride back to earth on Discovery’s STS-128 mission.
4. LEGOS: Juno Orbiter
In 2011, NASA launched the Juno orbiter on a six-year space mission to study Jupiter’s atmosphere, magnetosphere, and gravity fields. Somewhere onboard the Juno -perhaps tucked away in deep-sleep pods -there are 1.5-inch Lego figures of Galileo and the Roman Gods Jupiter and Juno. NASA and LEGO collaborated to put the figures in space as part of an education and outreach program to help encourage interest in science amongst children. The Juno orbiter is still in transit to Jupiter, but it is expected to arrive in 2016. The Juno Orbiter’s camera is designed to provide the first detailed glimpse of Jupiter’s poles.
3. Dirt From Yankee Stadium: Space Shuttle Endeavor’s STS-123 Mission
Over the years, many space-flyers have chosen to show their colors and team spirit by taking sports jerseys with them into the final frontier, but astronaut Garret Reisman brought fandom to new heights when he brought a vial of dirt from the pitcher’s mound at Yankee Stadium in 2008. Reisman brought along other mementos of his favorite baseball team, too, including a banner and hat autographed by George Steinbrenner, the principal owner of The New York Yankees.
In a twist befitting science fiction, Reisman’s suitcase of sports memorabilia was all part of a larger planetary scheme. On April 16, 2008, Reisman threw out the ceremonial first pitch via video from the International Space Station prior to the start of the Yankees game. While a ceremonial pitch in microgravity was a cosmic first, The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were playing that day, which is a baseball rivalry that goes back 100 years.
2. Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber: Discovery’s STS-120 Mission
In order to mark the 30th anniversary of the “Star Wars” franchise, Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber was flown to the International Space Station and back. The Jedi weapon was carried onboard the Discovery STS-120 as it launched on Oct 23, 2007. The mission: to deliver a module to the space station’s orbiting laboratory, as well as bring intergalactic joy to Star Wars fanboys from Tatooine to planet Earth. The lightsaber was the original prop used by Mark Hamill in the 1977 George Lucas film. In fact, George Lucas was in attendance to watch the Discovery launch. Luke’s lightsaber was returned to LucasFilm after the mission.
1. Ashes of Star Trek Creator, Gene Roddenberry: Columbia’s STS-52 Mission
Is there any better way to immortalize Gene Roddenberry, the creator of “Star Trek,” than to fly his ashes into space? In 1992, the Columbia STS-52 brought a canister of the science fiction legend’s ashes into outer space, and it marked the first time that human remains were launched on a manned spacecraft. However, instead “of boldly going where no man has gone before,” the canister of Roddenberry’s ashes orbited the earth 160 times and was then gathered by the crew and returned to the shuttle. In 1997, another portion of Rodenberry’s ashes were launched into space -along with 23 other peoples’ ashes -by the Houston-based firm Celestis, a company the offers spaceflight memorial services.
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