Lightsaber Leads List of Mission Mementos
Item 18: "Lightsaber movie prop" as packaged for STS-120's Official Flight Kit.
Credit: Lucasfilm

Item number 22 is for Pam Melroy's alma matter. Stephanie Wilson chose to fly number 52 in connection with her former summer job. Items 70 through 78 will be returned by Paolo Nespoli. And oh, yes, item 18 is Luke Skywalker's lightsaber ...

The contents of the STS-120 Official Flight Kit (OFK) are as varied as the mission's astronauts and for good reason: they selected most of the mementos to be packed inside. Along with the few personal souvenirs that they are flying for family and friends inside smaller preference kits, the 2 cubic feet alloted by the OFK are the crew's means to say thanks to the schools, companies, civic centers and other organizations that have supported them over the years.

This particular mission aboard space shuttle Discovery is especially busy, with five spacewalks scheduled to assist in preparing the International Space Station for the arrival of international science labs, but even were the astronauts to have an abundance of free time, the items in the OFK would remain stowed for the length of the 14-day mission, with only a few exceptions.

"Oh, I've got a lot of little things," explained commander Pam Melroy in a preflight interview with collectSPACE.com. "I have a banner from my brother's son's school district in upstate New York [item 28]. I have some mementos from several different schools that I have connections with [e.g. item 22].

"For me, what I have really been focusing on is actually the Expedition crew," continued Melroy, referring to the space station's residents. Together with ISS commander Peggy Whitson, Melroy is setting a record for the first females to lead space flights at the same time. "We have a few special flight data file slots, as we call them, where things you can actually take out and play with on orbit. So for me, I have been really focused on selecting some unique gifts, both for the station crew and also some little surprises for my own crew."

Melroy was coy about what those items were, as she did not want to spoil the surprise, but she did share a hint. "I will tell you that the stuff for the Expedition crew may have something to do with the fact that we're approaching the holiday season," she teased.

STS-120's commander wasn't the only crew member with the holidays on her/his mind. Dan Tani, who on Thursday transferred from Discovery's to the station's crew, is as of now scheduled to return home with the next space shuttle mission, before Christmas. So, has he packed gifts for his two young daughters?

"I am bringing some jewelry for my daughters and for my wife but I am not bringing anything specifically Christmas-wise," ISS Expedition 16's newest flight engineer replied. "In fact the worse thing sort of, in this situation that could happen is that we anticipate I will be home for Christmas and then something happens, and all of sudden I am not."

Instead, Tani is bringing pictures and movies of his family, as well as memorabilia related to his favorite sports team.

Speaking several weeks before his flight, Tani shared, "I have with me some Cubs memorabilia so if they choose to go all the way this year, I'll be proud to display that and help them celebrate. I've spent my whole life as a Cubs fan, maybe I had to leave the Earth to see them go all the way [to the World Series]." Sadly, that was not to be, as Tani acknowledged when he arrived in Florida last week in preparation for the launch.

"I was thinking about how thankful I am to my beloved Cubs who allowed me to fully concentrate on my mission this October by giving me the time to not have to worry about staying up late watching baseball games," he said with a wide smile.

STS-120 mission specialist Doug Wheelock also selected items related to baseball, though his focus was on specific former player, Bobby Mercer.

"He used to play for the New York Yankees, and when I grew up in upstate New York, he was my hero," Wheelock told collectSPACE.com. "Right around Christmas of last year, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and he came here to MD Anderson [Cancer Center] in Houston to get treatment. I reached out to him to try to share what he has meant to me over the years, giving me a sense of teamwork ... just kind of a role model to me."

"We have met several times now and he's become a dear friend. I am carrying one of his jerseys to space with me, as well as one of his baseball cards, it's actually a [card] with him and Pete Rose on the baseball card, for him," he said.

Continue reading about the crew's choices and Star Wars director George Lucas' advice to the astronauts at collectSPACE.com.

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