A "flat" paper doll, a freshly-baked batch of wedding cookies, a cartoon dog, and patches inscribed with a sci-fi alien language are packed among 17,000 pounds of science experiments, equipment and supplies that were delivered by space shuttle Discovery early Wednesday to the International Space Station (ISS).
Lighting the predawn sky as it lifted off on Monday at 6:21 a.m. EDT (1021 GMT), Discovery launched the STS-131 crew on a 13-day mission to the orbiting laboratory, where they'll perform three spacewalks and move equipment into and out of a moving van module called Leonardo. Led by commander Alan Poindexter, Discovery's crew arrived at the station at 3:44 a.m. EDT (0744 GMT) Wednesday.
The seven astronauts ? the shuttle's last full contingent as the fleet's remaining three planned missions are set to fly with one empty seat each ? have packed on Discovery mementos and creature comforts to bring a bit of home to the station. They'll return to Earth with many of the same souvenirs to share space with those on the ground.
Sand tarts for the spaceman
One special care package, flown at the request of station resident Timothy "T.J." Creamer, will be lucky if it lasts the full day let alone remain when Discovery departs for Earth.
Having just this past week marked his 100th day in space as a flight engineer for the station's 23rd expedition crew, it's understandable why Creamer might be eager a taste of home ? and that is exactly what the STS-131 crew has for him.
Fulfilling a request Creamer made before he launched last December, Discovery is delivering cookies from an Italian restaurant he frequented while training at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The wedding-style cookies were specially prepared for spaceflight by Bessilyn Piazza, who continues to follow her late mother's recipe while baking the sand tarts at the Italian Caf? in Seabrook for more than 20 years.
"It will be the perfect tribute to my mother," Piazza said in a statement issued before Discovery's launch. "I know how proud she would be to see her sand tarts travel into space."
Contacted by NASA to provide samples for the standard pre-flight testing that all "space food" undergoes, Piazza ended up making just one change to the cookies at the space agency's request: reducing the amount of powdered sugar that normally coats each sand tart.
Still, the half-dollar size pastries are bound to be a sweet treat for Creamer and his crewmates. The experience has been sweet for Piazza, too.
"My feet haven't touched the ground since I received the news," said Piazza. "This is something I never dreamed would happen. I'm still on cloud nine."
Flight's fifth female and first doggie
Not all of Discovery's "sweet" deliveries are edible.
Dorothy "Dottie" Metcalf-Lindenburger ? who together with fellow STS-131 mission specialists Stephanie Wilson and Naoko Yamazaki, as well as Expedition 23 flight engineer Tracy Caldwell Dyson, has established the record for the most women astronauts in space at one time ? has tucked inside her notebook the crew's honorary fifth female.
Standing just seven inches tall and less than one-tenth of a millimeter thick, "Flat Marie" is the paper doll creation of 5-year-old Marie Plowman. A pre-school student at First Presbyterian Christian School in Spokane, Washington, the real Marie created her flat self as a part of her class's "Flat Stanley" project based on the 1964 children's book by the same title. In the book, author Jeff Brown shares the story of Stanley, who's flattened and then embarks on adventures by being mailed in an envelope.
Metcalf-Lindenburger, a teacher herself who was selected with NASA's 2004 educator-astronaut class, is connected with Marie through her friendship with the child's maternal grandfather, a retired history professor at Whitman College where Metcalf-Lindenburger graduated.
Marie's mother originally e-mailed Metcalf-Lindenburger to ask if she would share some of her training experiences.
"She e-mailed right back and said that she would not only be willing to do that but that she would be happy to take "Flat Marie" along on the mission as well," said Stephanie Plowman in an interview with The Spokesman-Review.
"Flat Marie" is not the only two-dimensional character on the shuttle.
Clayton Anderson, a fellow STS-131 mission specialist, is flying "Dogie the Doggie," the childhood comic creation of cartoonist Jeff Koterba. Anderson reached out to Koterba after seeing an editorial cartoon Koterba drew about him for The Omaha World-Herald newspaper in Nebraska.
"Last fall [Anderson] invited me to draw two cartoons that he could take on the shuttle," Koterba explained in an interview with the Political Cartoon Index, a website about editorial cartoons, adding that one would be given to the World-Herald and the other he would keep. "The cartoon for myself has to do with Dogie the Doggie."
The one-frame comic, which depicts the spacesuit-ed dog "Dogie" thinking "I finally made it . . . " while spacewalking outside the shuttle, features Koterba's version of another famous comic strip dog.
"Dogie the Doggie was my childhood answer to Snoopy," Koterba told interviewer Rob Tornoe, "created in response to my father who didn?t believe I should just be copying characters out of the comics pages."
"Copying characters" is exactly what Tony Boatright did to design part of NASA's patch for the Window Observational Research Facility, a science equipment rack flying aboard Discovery that once installed on the station's Destiny lab science window will enable astronaut-tended and remote-controlled Earth-observation experiments.
Recognizing that the rack's acronym ? WORF ? was the name given to a character, Lt. Commander Worf, on the sci-fi television series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine," Boatright had the idea to use the fictional security officer's native alien language, Klingon, on the emblem.
He contacted Star Trek executive producer Rick Berman's office to make certain that he "wouldn't violate any Star Trek canon."
"We agreed on the Klingon Klinshai, or Mandel, script that had appeared in "The U.S.S. Enterprise Officer's Manual" ... to spell out the name W-O-R-F," Boatright explained in a discussion forum post he made on collectSPACE.com.
Boatright, who was a member of the WORF development team when he designed the patch in 2001, is proud of the final result.
"[By] late next week, I'll have my art (via a WORF sticker on the front of the rack) on permanent display in a fairly exclusive orbital gallery," he wrote.
More of Boatright's WORF patches are stowed inside the STS-131 Official Flight Kit (OFK), a stash of souvenirs to be distributed to team members and other organizations after Discovery returns to Earth.
Among those other items in the OFK are hundreds of the STS-131 mission patch as designed by NASA artist Cindy Busch under the lead of Metcalf-Lindenburger, as well as the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) patch for crew member Yamazaki.
The latter, a tear-drop shape patch, features multi-colored four-leaf clovers and a rainbow stretching from the space station to Mars.
"For me it represents that space holds a lot of possibilities for the future. I hope we'll continue dreaming about space, and it is that hope that is [symbolized] in the patch," said Yamazaki in an interview with collectSPACE.
Click through to collectSPACE.com to view the complete STS-131 Official Flight Kit (OFK) manifest.
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