Orbital Souvenirs Reflect Diversity
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The STS-119 crew patch The astronauts of STS-119 will take objects into orbit that mean a lot to themselves, but also many that are symbolic of larger causes, goals and expectations. Most of the items will remain tucked in lockers inside Discovery while the crew goes about its tasks, including installing a new set of solar arrays on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

From a NASCAR driver’s flag to a purple stuffed duck, the collection of orbital mementoes chosen by the astronauts of space shuttle Discovery’s STS-119 mission highlight a diverse set of influences and interests.

The stuffed duck, one of several toy animals making the trip, represents the Japanese city of Saitama, which is the hometown of Koichi Wakata. He will fly to the International Space Station and stay as a new member of its three-person crew. The duck will return to Earth with Discovery.

STS-119 spacewalkers Richard Arnold and Joseph Acaba, both former teachers, will fly mementos, such as small flags, from some of the schools where they taught.

Among the assortment of flags being flown is a National Guard design from Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s racing team. Earnhardt races in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series in the No. 88 car sponsored in part by the National Guard.

Pilot and first-time flier Tony Antonelli arranged for Discovery to carry a green flag for Andretti Green Racing, the team of IndyCar racer Danica Patrick. Antonelli is expected to serve as official starter for an IndyCar race after Discovery’s flight.

The shuttle also will carry an extra spacesuit of sorts, although it would be too small for any of the crew members. The astronauts are taking the child-size garment into orbit for the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore. The suit is orange and resembles the pressure suits crew members wear during the climb toward space and the return to Earth.

All the items are expected to be displayed prominently after they are returned to their owners following the flight. They serve as inspirational objects for people who have never been into space or children who may set out on a scientific career in hopes of one day reaching orbit themselves.

There are at least eight items that are not expected to survive long enough to make the flight home, however. They are eight chocolate bars made by a company in Indiana that gives part of its profits to conservation groups protecting endangered species throughout the world. Steve Swanson, a mission specialist who will make several spacewalks during STS-119, asked for the dark chocolate bars to be packed aboard and eaten as dessert during one of the meals with the shuttle and space station crews.

Scores of objects are on display all over the world from previous space missions, and space shuttles typically carry a number of tokens that are handed out in recognition of employees and others.
Steven Siceloff
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center