What's Going Up?

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What's Going Up?
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NARRATOR: Objects never designed to leave Earth often make their way into orbit, if only for a short time.

Some are relics from historic achievements, others are signposts along the path of pop culture.

Their importance is rarely debated, and the symbolism of carrying such objects into space adds a unique permanence to their status.

The latest example is a lightsaber handle used in the original Star Wars trilogy that was released 30 years ago.

In the landmark movie series, the lightsaber wielded by Luke Skywalker is a tool to bring freedom and justice to a repressed galaxy.

As a passenger aboard the next flight of space shuttle Discovery in late October, the lightsaber stands as a symbol of adventure and initiative standing on firm ideals.

The lightsaber will not be alone inside Discovery's crew compartment. It will share space with stacks of patches bearing the STS-120 logo, plus personal items the astronauts choose to take with them.

Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom started the tradition of carrying mementoes into space with his first Mercury flight in July 1961. He tucked roles of dimes into his flight suit.

Since then, the practice has become more sophisticated. NASA also got into the act itself, realizing the appeal of objects that have been to the final frontier.

Apollo 11, for example, carried a piece of the treasured Wright Flyer to the moon. The small piece of wood was made for an aircraft that was never expected to soar more than a few feet off the ground.

A little more than 65 years after the world's first successful powered airplane leapt from Kitty Hawk sands, the strut section soared to the moon.

Riding inside space shuttle Atlantis in June, a cargo tag from the first English colony at Jamestown crossed the Atlantic Ocean in minutes. Some 300 years earlier, it took the same lead tag months to make the same crossing.

Most of the artifacts that are carried into space find new homes on Earth as display pieces.

They become tangible beacons to the adventure of space for those who have not been able to make the trip themselves.

Check back with nasa.gov in the future to find out what other missions are taking into space.

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