'Personal Space': Museum Exhibits Astronauts' Spaceflight Mementos

intrepid personal space exhibit
The new "Personal Space" temporary exhibit at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City showcases eleven astronauts' space-flown mementos. (Image credit: Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum via collectSPACE.com)

A comic strip beagle shares space with a romantic novel and a sci-fi starship in a new museum exhibit that asks the public to consider: What would you pack if you were leaving Earth?

"Personal Space," now on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, showcases eleven unique items that launched with astronauts on their missions into orbit and back.

"What struck me is that each of the astronauts had a different reason for bringing what they did," said curator Eric Boehm. "It was different for every astronaut and that is what makes it very interesting. No two reasons are alike." [Space Shuttle Enterprise's Sea Trek to NYC Museum (Photos)]

Located inside the Intrepid's Space Shuttle Pavilion under the right wing of the prototype orbiter Enterprise, "Personal Space" debuted on Thursday (Sept. 20) as part of the aircraft carrier-turned-museum's annual Space and Science Festival. The temporary exhibit will be on display for the next year.

"When you go on a space voyage, you can't take all your stuff. And most of the stuff you take is because it is mission related. But you are able to take a few personal items," said former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, the Intrepid's senior space advisor, whose boyhood toy is featured in the exhibit. "I think it is interesting what people decide to take with them, it shows what is meaningful."

Mike Massimino poses with his astronaut Snoopy toy in July 1969 and May 2009, the latter on space shuttle Atlantis. (Image credit: Mike Massimino via collectSPACE.com)

Where Jane Austen meets Snoopy

Among the space-flown items that are part of the "Personal Space" exhibit are astronaut Mario Runco's "Star Trek" starship Enterprise toy, Ellen Baker's paper dolls and Megan McArthur Behnken's pocket copy of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," her favorite book.

"I am lending — not donating by the way, I want it back! — my astronaut Snoopy toy," said Massimino in an interview with collectSPACE.com.

A prized gift from his older brother, Massimino took the plastic Snoopy figure with him when he launched on his second of two missions to service the Hubble Space Telescope, STS-125, in 2009.

"I was very excited to get it," said Massimino, recalling when he was six years old. "That Halloween I dressed up as an astronaut and there is a picture of me holding that Snoopy as a little kid and I got to fly that same Snoopy in space as an adult."

Each object in "Personal Space" is accompanied by a photo of the item in space and a quote from the astronaut who carried it, describing why the memento meant something to him or her. For Scott Altman, the pocket watch flown on his second spaceflight, STS-106 in 2000, connected him to his grandfather.

"He wound it in the morning when he went to work and on the days he didn't have work, he set it down," said Altman. "My grandfather started off as a coal miner in central Illinois and ultimately became a union leader. But it was [that symbol] of his work ethic that was something I wanted to have with me."

Altman said objects like his grandfather's pocket watch take on an added meaning having flown in space.

"Now it is even a more precious a piece because I know that it traveled with me, just like it traveled with him when he went to work," Altman told collectSPACE.com. "That connection means something to me, and hopefully it resonates with people when they look at the exhibit." [9 Weird Things That Flew on NASA's Space Shuttles]

Sharing the adventure

Astronaut Mike Good loaned the Intrepid a Saint Christopher medal and nail cross that he wore aboard both of his space shuttle missions, STS-125 and STS-132.

"These items launched with me on the space shuttle Atlantis, went out with me on spacewalks to repair Hubble, and returned with me as we reentered the Earth's atmosphere at 25 times the speed of sound," said Good. "I also used this chain to wear my wedding ring and my wife Joan's wedding ring."

Good said the pendants were important symbols of his faith and love, representing his family members and the St. Paul Catholic Church community back at his home in Houston.

"It was my way of taking them all along and sharing the adventure with them," Good told collectSPACE.com. "As I floated around in space for two weeks, the items on my chain floated around, too. Without gravity, the chain didn't hang down from my neck."

The Intrepid's "Personal Space" exhibit also includes "The Wave," a watercolor painted by Nicole Stott while in Earth orbit, a collapsible, fabric model of the Hubble Space Telescope handcrafted by John Grunsfeld, a telescope eyepiece "smuggled" aboard the space shuttle by Al Drew and a guitar pick used by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield to perform with the band Barenaked Ladies for the first space-to-Earth musical collaboration in 2013.

Megan McArthur Behnken's personal pocket copy of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" as flown on space shuttle Atlantis and now on exhibit at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City. (Image credit: Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum via collectSPACE.com)

"I really wanted the guitar," said Boehm. "But they had to leave the guitar in orbit because it wouldn't fit in the Soyuz [spacecraft] to bring it home. So Hadfield came home with the guitar pick and that is what he loaned us."

Like Hadfield's on-orbit performances, which were shared on social media, "Personal Space" also aims to engage the public, and especially children, online.

"I am hopeful the exhibit is popular with visitors and we are developing a social media aspect to it," explained Boehm. "The question we're posing is, 'What would you bring if you were to go into space?' That should be fun."

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Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.