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IntroductionWhen NASA's space shuttles launch into orbit, they don't just carry astronauts and supplies into the final frontier. There's a lot of other weird stuff that makes the out-of-this-world journey, too.
NASA's last space shuttle mission will launch Friday, July 8 on the Atlantis orbiter to deliver spare parts to the International Space Station. The mission will be the 135th and last flight for the program, which began in 1981.
But over the course of 30 years, the space shuttles have flown some peculiar objects into orbit. The list of odd stuff that flew aboard the shuttles is a long one, and includes the Olympic torch, a replica of the golden spike from the First Transcontinental Railroad, and rocks from the top of Mount Everest and the surface of the moon, just to name a few.
Here nine recent space oddities carried into orbit on NASA shuttles:
Cans of Coca-Cola & PepsiSlide 2 of 19
Cans of Coca-Cola & PepsiIn 1985, special modified cans of Coca-Cola and Pepsi soda rode aboard the space shuttle Challenger on its STS-51F mission. The trip added more fuel to the so-called "Cola Wars" between the Coca-Cola Company and Pepsi, Co.
"Originally, only Coca-Cola was scheduled to fly," said Robert Pearlman, editor of collectSPACE.com, a website that tracks space-flown artifacts, and a SPACE.com contributor. "In addition to their desire to offer carbonated beverages for astronauts, Coca-Cola was also observing the effects of spaceflight on changes in taste perception with the goal of understanding altered tastes among target populations on Earth, such as the elderly."
"When Pepsico Inc. learned Coca-Cola was aboard, they approached NASA to fly as well, and quickly devised their own shaving cream can-inspired design," said Pearlman.
The cans, which were officially dubbed the Carbonated Beverage Dispenser Evaluation payload, were part of an experiment by the two soft drink giants to test packaging and methods of dispensing the liquids in a microgravity environment.
At the end of Challenger's mission, however, the astronaut crewmembers deemed the experiment a failure due to the lack of refrigeration and insufficient protection from microgravity effects. [Most Memorable Space Shuttle Missions]
Coca-Cola later flew a dispenser specially designed for microgravity to give astronauts the opportunity to enjoy Coke and Diet Coke in space. The dispenser flew during the space shuttle Discovery's STS-63 mission in 1995. The beverages were dispensed into sealed drinking cups and the liquid was chilled on the spot using cooling coils attached to the storage container.
A second-generation dispenser was also flown on Endeavour's STS-77 mission in 1996. This version held Coke, Diet Coke and Powerade, an energy drink. The device, however, did not work as expected on orbit.
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The New York Mets' Home PlateSlide 4 of 19
The New York Mets' Home PlateIn 2009, as the New York Mets organization prepared to move its baseball team into the new Citi Field in Queens, N.Y., a piece of hardware from the team's old home, Shea Stadium, made a special trip into space. On May 11, 2009, the home plate from Shea Stadium launched into orbit on the space shuttle Atlantis' STS-125 mission — the last trip to the Hubble Space Telescope.
"The only problem was the plate wouldn't fit as is into the shuttle's locker designated for memorabilia," said Pearlman. "Rather than leave it 'home,' Massimino was able to trim off the plate’s black-colored border using a razor, flying just the 'white part.' The two parts were reunited once the plate was back on the ground."
Astronaut Mike Massimino, a New Yorker and devoted Mets fan, brought the plate with him and his six crewmates on their mission to overhaul the aging Hubble Space Telescope. After journeying into space, the plate was returned to Earth, and Massimino was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game upon his return.
Shea Stadium in Queens's Flushing neighborhood was demolished after serving as the home of the Mets from 1964 until 2008. The Mets placed the flown plate on display in Citi Field, which opened its doors in the spring of 2009.Slide 5 of 19
Buzz Lightyear – To Infinity and Beyond!Slide 6 of 19
Buzz Lightyear – To Infinity and Beyond!As part of an educational and public outreach mission, NASA teamed up with Disney to launch an action figure of the beloved character Buzz Lightyear, from Disney-Pixar's film "Toy Story," into space. A 12-inch tall Buzz flew to the International Space Station on Discovery's STS-124 mission in May 2008.
The intrepid figurine spent a whopping 468 days at the orbiting outpost, during which time he starred in educational videos as part of joint NASA and Disney outreach programs. After more than a year in space, Buzz hitched a ride back to Earth on Discovery's STS-128 mission, which landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Sept. 11, 2009.
On Oct. 2, 2009, the action figure was even treated to a ticker tape parade at Walt Disney World in Florida to celebrate the successful completion of his long-duration mission in space.
"Joining Lightyear for his hero’s welcome back to the 'Happiest Place on Earth' was his namesake, Buzz Aldrin. Disney asked permission to name the cartoon space ranger after the real moonwalker before the first 'Toy Story' movie was released in 1995," Pearlman said. [Photos of Buzz Lightyear's Disney Homecoming]Slide 7 of 19
Luke Skywalker's LightsaberSlide 8 of 19