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Great Lakes water returning to Earth with space shuttle crew

The space shuttle Endeavour as it departed from the International Space Station on Tuesday, July 28, 2009. (NASA)
July 30, 2009

— Before undocking from the International Space Station on Tuesday, July 28, the STS-127 crew on space shuttle Endeavour transferred to the orbiting outpost an estimated 1,200 pounds of water that the orbiter's three fuel cells generated as a byproduct during their 11 days together. The power-providing units will continue to supply water for the seven shuttle astronauts until they return to Earth, targeted for Friday morning, weather permitting, but one crew member also kept stowed a small, but very special set of water samples for the ride home.

Mission specialist Julie Payette, who together with space station flight engineer Bob Thirsk set a record for the first time two Canadians have been in space at the same time, launched with the water to symbolize the partnership that humans share with planet Earth.

"We managed to convince NASA to bring little ampoules — they are really small, about half an inch — and in there, there is a drop [of water] from all the five Great Lakes and the three oceans that surround Canada: the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific and Atlantic," shared Payette during a preflight interview with collectSPACE. "It is afterwards going to be used in an exhibit in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto about water awareness and the importance it will play very soon in our lives."

According to the Candian Space Agency (CSA), the water was collected over the past couple of years through the collaboration of its partners, including the United States' Environmental Protection Agency. As well as highlighting biodiversity, the samples' space flight marked the 50th anniversary of the St. Lawrence Seaway system, which is considered one of the world's greatest and most strategic commercial waterways according to CSA.

The water packets were among the ten items Payette chose for her mission's Official Flight Kit (OFK), a duffle bag size container in which she and her crew mates, as well as NASA, flew items for organizations that supported the STS-127 flight and its astronauts. The OFK remained stowed for the 16-day, five-spacewalk mission that added the final component, an exterior experiment platform, to Japan's Kibo laboratory.

As the kit's manifest lists, Payette also flew a replica of an astrolabe for the Canadian Museum of Civilization, a microchip engraved with the names of all recipients of the Ordre national du Québec, and a copy of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

Canadian astronaut Julie Payette's personal patch (right) and the One Drop statue she is flying. (Canadian Space Agency)

Water is also represented in the form of a resin statue of a droplet flown by Payette for the One Drop Foundation, a non-profit organization led by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté. He will follow Payette to space when he flies as a privately-funded participant on Russia's next Soyuz to the station.

Payette also requested for the Earth-human partnership be incorporated into the patch she wore on her suit in addition to the STS-127 crew insignia.

"They were asking me what I like, you know, the little details and I said, 'the Earth', which is so impressive from space and I wish so many people could see it because it has a very big impression on how important a planet is to us, to our survival," she described. "The rest I said, 'Keep it simple, not too many things, too much hardware' and they did a superb job at representing the technical aspect, the robotic aspect but really our partnership, we humans with the planet. And that I am really, really proud about. Without being an activist, I really believe that it is really important."

SEALs, schools and starting lineups

Filling the remaining 46 out of 85 slots set aside for the crew members in the official flight kit, are items chosen by Payette's fellow fliers.

Mission specialist Chris Cassidy, who became the 500th person in history to enter space when Endeavour crossed 62 miles altitude after launching on July 15, is also only the second Navy SEAL to be an astronaut.

"I'm flying things for my military command, the places I was assigned to in the Navy," Cassidy told collectSPACE. Among his flight kit items is a medallion for the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Cassidy performed three of the mission's five spacewalks with Tom Marshburn and Dave Wolf.

Marshburn, a former NASA flight surgeon and one of four medical doctors who were in space during STS-127, had fun requesting an item to fly from his high school, even if another astronaut sort of stole his thunder.

"That was a lot of fun," he recalled, "walking up at my old high school to the front desk, introducing myself and just saying, 'I'd like to fly something to space'. But Eric Boe beat me to the punch, because he and I went to the same high school."

Boe also flew something for Henderson High School in Atlanta, Georgia when he launched on-board Endeavour's previous mission, STS-126 in November 2008.

Marshburn and Boe were not STS-127's only coincidental classmates: Wolf and commander Mark Polansky not only attended Purdue University in Indiana together but were once roommates. Their reunion in space inspired a show of school spirit.

"We [took] two hats and a Purdue flag," Wolf said preflight and sure enough, the two alums appeared with them in a video they downlinked during the flight.

STS-127 crewmates and former roommates at Purdue University, Mark Polansky and Dave Wolf show their school spirit. (NASA)

Not everything being brought back was packed inside the official flight kit.

Japan's first long-duration crew member, Koichi Wakata, who himself is returning on Endeavour after 138 days in space, has packed away special underwear that he wore for a month without changing. Part of an experiment, the trunks are part of a special set of clothing called J-ware that was designed to kill bacteria, absorb water, insulate the body and dry quickly.

I wore it for about a month and my station crewmembers never complained for the month so I think the experiment went fine," said Wakata in response to the Associated Press. "I'm returning that and we'll see the results after landing."

Should inclement weather at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida delay the underwear's return by a day, pilot Doug Hurley is ready with a distraction.

"We get to fly [DVDs] with us," Hurley told collectSPACE. "I'm taking up the '79 Daytona 500, which is kind of when NASCAR first made it big as a nation-wide thing, and then the 1998 Daytona 500, which was where Dale Earnhardt finally won his first Daytona 500."

"I told them that if we have a wave off day, we will have something to watch."

The STS-127 Official Flight Kit Manifest

The following is the STS-127 Official Flight Kit manifest, as provided by NASA. Inventory numbers that are missing indicate items that were removed prior to launch.

No.   Description   Sponsor/Purpose
  1. 625 STS-127 crew patches
  2. 100 Expedition 20 patches
  Agency Presentation
2.   800 Small United States Flags   Agency Presentation
3.   5 Sets U.S. States & Territories Flags   Agency Presentation
4.   5 Sets United Nations Members Flags   Agency Presentation
  1. 20 Small Texas Flags
  2. 5 Small NASA Flags
  3. 5 NASA Patches
  4. 2 Texas Lapel Pins
  5. 1 Bronze NASA Seal Medallion
  6. 1 Silver Shuttle Pendant
  7. 6 Small JSC Medallions
  8. 5 Small POW/MIA Flags
  Agency Presentation
6.   Small Flags of the Following States:
  1. 10 Texas
  2. 10 Maine
  3. 5 New Jersey
  4. 5 New York
  5. 5 North Carolina
  6. 5 George
  7. 5 Indiana
  8. 2 Hawaii
  9. 2 Virginia
  10. 2 California
  11. 2 Florida
  Agency Presentation
7.   5 Small Flags of the Following Countries:
  1. France
  2. Ireland
  3. Finland
  Agency Presentation
8.   10 Small Flags of the Following Countries:
  1. Canada
  2. Japan
  3. Russia
  Agency Presentation
9.   10 Each Small Military Flags:
  1. U.S. Air Force
  2. U.S. Army
  3. U.S. Coast Guard
  4. U.S. Marine Corps
  5. U.S. Navy
  Agency Presentation
  1. 10 Small United States Flags
  2. 10 Small Alabama State Flags
  Marshall Space Flight Center Presentation
  1. 10 Small Louisiana State Flags
  2. 10 Small Mississippi State Flags
  3. 5 Small NASA Flags
  4. 5 Small United States Flags
  Stennis Space Center Presentation
  1. 2 Small United States Flags
  2. 2 Small Florida State Flags
  Kennedy Space Center Presentation
13.   140 Silver Snoopy Pins   Space Flight Awareness Presentation
14.   25 EVA Patches   Agency Presentation
  1. 10 STS-127 Crew Patches
  2. 10 Small U.S. flags
  3. 10 DoD Space Test Program Patches
  4. 8 DoD Human Spaceflight Support Office Patches
  5. 8 Det 3 Human Spaceflight Support Office Commander Coins
  6. 1 STS-127 "Kibo" JEM EF & ELM-ES Patch
  7. 1 RAIDS Payload Plaque
  DoD Presentation
  1. 7 Constellation Patches
  2. 6 Ares Patches
  3. 6 Orion Patches
  4. 6 Ground Ops Patches
  Constellation Program Office Presentation
17.   25 COD Patches   Center Operations Directorate Presentation
18.   15 STS-127 Crew Patches   United Space Alliance Presentation
19.   30 Mini-RF Patches   NASA Headquarters Presentation
20.   Small 4-H Flag   Agency Presentation

Items 21 through 77 are manifested at the request of the STS-127 crewmembers.

21.   Black and Yellow School Banner (21"x28")   East Central High School, San Antonio, TX
22.   Texas Flag (3'x5')   Agri-West International, San Antonio, TX
23.   Texas Flag (3'x5')   Food Safety Net, San Antonio, TX
24.   6"x6" Ceramic Tile   Holy Spirit Catholic School, Houston, TX
25.   Green Nylon Banner   Tulane University, New Orleans, LA
26.   NWTF Patch   National Wild Turkey Foundation, Edgefield, SC
27.   Black NASCAR Pit Hat   Joe Gibbs Racing, Huntsville, NC
28.   Camouflage Hat   Realtree Outdoor Products, Columbus, GA
29.   Grey T-Shirt   Owego Free Academy, Owego, NY
30.   White Oval Patch   Wild Sheep Foundation, Cody, WY
31.   Seagull-Design Patch   Naval Reserve Officer and Training Corps Tulane, New Orleans, LA
32.   Brown Patch   U.S. Marine Corps Vikings, San Diego, CA
33.   Aluminum Cylinder Stamp (2"x7/8")   Lockheed Martin, Owego, NY
34.   Black Retangular Patch   Safari Club International, Tucson, AZ
35.   Silver and Black Medallion   National Navy Underwater Demolition Team-SEAL Museum, Ft. Pierce, FL
36.   Bronze Medallion   United States Navy SEAL Team 3, San Diego, CA
37.   Bronze Eagle Design Medallion   United States Navy Special BOAT Team 20, Norfolk, VA
38.   Yellow, White and Blue Patch   U.S. Navy SEAL Team 10, Norfolk, VA
39.   Bronze Flipper-Shaped Medallion   U.S. Navy SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 2, Norfolk, VA
40.   Gold Silk Banner (17x25")   North America 20th Company, Norfolk, VA
41.   Navy Banner (11"x10")   U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD
42.   Blue Varsity Letter "Y"   York High School, York, ME
43.   Maine Flag (3'x5')   Office of the Governor, Augusta ME
44.   Blue U.S. Navy Banner (3'x5')   Cassidy Association, York, ME
45.   Red and Black Pennant (31.5"x11.5")   Davidson College, Davidson, NC
46.   White Varsity Letter "H"   Henderson Middle School, Chamblee, GA
47.   Pewter Coaster   University of Virginia Department of Engineering, Charlottesville, VA
48.   Gold Lapel Pin   City of Statesville, Statesville, NC
49.   Multi-Colored Flag (11"x7")   Galaspie Tourist Association, Sainte-Flavie, Quebec
50.   4"x3" Separated Water Packets   Canadian Space Agency, Montreal, Canada
51.   White, Black and Red Token   Center of Sciences, Montreal Canada
52.   12"x10" Paper Sheet Music   Symphonic Orchestre of Montreal, Canada
53.   4.5" Gold Astrolabe Replica Pendulum   Canadian Civilization Museum, Gatineau, Quebec
54.   Silver Square Microchip   National Order of Quebec, Montreal, Quebec
55.   3"x5" Copper Spectrum Reproduction   Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, Victoria, BC
56.   5"x2" White and Clear Resin Statue   Cirque du Soleil Foundation One Drop, Montreal
57.   1/4" Yellow-Colored Rough Diamond   Astronomy North, The Legendary Skies, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
58.   3'x5' White Nylon Flag   United World Colleges of the Atlantic, Toronto, Ontario
59.   Red Patch   Eli Lilly Aviation Club, San Diego, CA
60.   3.5"x3.5" Aluminum Airplane Paperweight   Ropkey Air Museum, Indianapolis, IN
61.   Grey T-shirt   Indiana Math Academy, Indianapolis, IN
62.   Men's Open Face Accutron Watch w/Brown Band   Wolf Car Museum, Indianapolis, IN
63.   Color Aerial Photo of School and Students   Gilmore Elementary, League City, TX
64.   33"x23" White Shield-Shaped Banner   Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc., Indianapolis, IN
65.   3'x5' White, Blue and Green Flag   Girl Scouts of San Jacinto County Troup 1490, League City, TX
66.   19"x12" United States Flag   Veterans of Foriegn Wars, Berlin, PA
67.   31.5"x11.5" Maroon Banner   Rose-Hulman University, Terre Haute, IN
68.   5"x7" Folded Card with Embossed Design   El Paso Community Foundation, El Paso, TX
69.   Copper School Medallion   McCallum High School, Austin, TX
70.   White, Brown and Green Patch   Texas Forest Service, College Station, TX
71.   Gold Military Astronaut Wings   Agency Presentation
72.   Canadian Wings Patch   Agency Presentation
73.   Gold Astronaut Pin   Agency Presentation
74.   Gold Astronaut Pin   Agency Presentation
75.   Gold Astronaut Pin   Agency Presentation
76.   Gold Astronaut Pin   Agency Presentation
77.   Gold Astronaut Pin   Agency Presentation
78.   25 MOD Patches   Mission Operations Directorate Presentation
79.   2 Small Challenger Center Patches   Agency Presentation

Items 80 through 85 are manifested at the request of the Space Shuttle Program Office and Payload Customers.

80.   60 ISS Patches   ISS Program Office Presentation
  1. 70 JAXA STS-127/2J/A Patches
  2. 70 JAXA Exp. 18/19 Patches
  3. 100 JAXA STS-127/2J/A Pins
  4. 100 JAXA Exp. 18/19 Pins
  5. 100 Small (4"x6") Flags of Japan
  6. 100 Small Kibo Logo Flags
  7. 100 Small JAXA Flags
  JAXA Presentation
  1. 35 CAPE/ANDE-2 Patches
  2. 1 Space Test Program Medallion
  DoD/ANDE-2 Presentation
  1. 10 STS-127 Crew Patches
  2. 10 University of Texas Aerospace Engineer Patches
  3. 25 STS-127 Crew Patches
  4. 25 Small (4"x6") Texas Flags
  5. 8 Texas A&M Pins
  SSP/DRAGONSAT Presentation
84.   300 Sheets of SSP Bookmarks   SSP Presentation
  1. 40 CSA/Payette Patches
  2. 5 CSA Patches
  3. 112 Small (4"x6") Flags of Canada
  4. 156 Small Province Flags of Canada
  CSA Presentation

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