Shuttle and souvenirs at space station (STS-116 Official Flight Kit)
December 11, 2006
— Roman has a recording. Sunita's got her snapshots. And Bill has his banner from up north.
The STS-116 crew, living aboard Discovery and docked with the International Space Station, has mementos and favorite items packed with them.
Launched on the evening of December 9, the six member crew has also delivered supplies for the ISS, a new truss segment, and a new station resident, who will stay on the ISS when Discovery returns to Earth.
For STS-116 commander Mark "Roman" Polansky, pilot Bill Oefelein and their four crewmates, the mementos in their personal preference kits (PPKs) and in the Official Flight Kit (OFK) are souvenirs of their just begun 12-day mission to be given to family, friends, and organizations that they support. For Sunita Williams, who moved onto the ISS on Monday, they'll act as reminders of home for the duration of her six-month stay.
"We all have a small amount that we can take up on shuttle," Williams told collectSPACE. "For the station we have a little extra [room] that we can take up of stuff that we can really use while we are up there, like a ball cap or whatever."
"Its just like your office, where you have pictures of your family or little things that are mementos to you and some of that stuff is a little extra for station crew members [as] we are going to be there for a longer period of time," said Williams.
The photos she has brought with her include a special member of the Williams' family: her "crazy" Jack Russell Terrier named Gorby.
"Unfortunately, I cannot bring my dog [with me] but there will be a lot of pictures of my dog up there."
Williams also has a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a small statue of Lord Ganesh and a letter written in Hindi by her father, representing her half-Indian heritage.
For her six other crew mates, "house guests" to her new home, their mementos are stowed and along for the ride.
Most have packed items for their hometowns, states and countries.
For three-time flyer Bob "Beamer" Curbeam, that means continuing a tradition. "Every flight that I have been on, I always take in my OFK a U.S. Virgin Islands flag," said the mission specialist and spacewalker. "My grandfather is from there, so I always take a flag from there."
"Whenever I fly my last [mission], after that I will return it to the governor and life will be good."
Similarly, Polansky, as the only other experienced crew member, extended a custom of honoring his home state.
"I flew things for my high school on my first mission. Since I grew up in Edison [New Jersey], I am flying an item for the Thomas Edison museum in the hometown. I believe we are flying a state flag for the governor. There's always a Jersey connection in there somewhere," shared commander Polansky.
Described in the OFK manifest as a "blue plastic cast cylinder" that is 4.25 inches long and 2 inches diameter, Polansky's item for the Thomas A. Edison Menlo Park Museum is likely a wax cylinder for the phonograph, the recording device invented by Edison.
For two crew members, the items they fly represent their status as the first astronaut from their region.
Oefelein is the first to hail from the 49th state.
"Its one of the fortunate things about being in the Navy. I'm still an Alaskan resident and can still maintain my residency up there... so I am taking something up for the state."
Indeed, six of the items in the OFK were borrowed from Anchorage, including a city medallion and a white shuttle patch from the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska.
Christer Fuglesang, the first Swede in space, has a full compliment of items from his nation.
"I am bringing... the Stockholm city flag with me for the town council there. I have a Swedish national flag I am flying for the Parliament," Fuglesang told to reporters.
"I have some things for some of the universities there, which I have been either studying to or earn a doctorate from a university in northern Sweden called the Umeå University, and the other ones are Stockholm University and the Royal Institute of Technology. Those are some other things I am flying for Sweden," said the European Space Agency astronaut.
In addition to home states and countries, some are also flying items for their families.
"I'm taking some things for my wife and kids. I'll probably take a few photographs for my parents," Nick Patrick, a mission specialist, told collectSPACE before the mission.
The items Joan Higginbotham decided to take were very personal to her. "Your space to take personal items is so limited and I struggle with that," she admitted.
"I am taking a picture of my father who passed away five years ago. I am [also] taking a White Sox cap from the World Series," the Chicago native said.
"I am also taking a shirt that I had gotten from our family reunion. I am taking it because my dad designed it when we went to our reunion back eons ago."
"It's a light purple shirt, and on the front is the skyline of Chicago and it's the neatest design I have ever seen. Of course, I am a little biased," said Higginbotham.
Two hundred fifty (250) flags honoring the 25th anniversary of Space Camp are packed inside the STS-116 Official Flight Kit. They are flying alongside thousands of other items carried as mementos for NASA and the STS-116 crew to present after the 12-day mission to the International Space Station. (U.S. Space & Rocket Center)