When thegreen flag drops at the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on February 17, 2008,it will travel just a few inches. But for the first car crossing the finishline 500 miles later, a different green flag awaits the winner with a fewmillion miles to its history.
In fact, toeven come close to matching the distance traveled by that green flag, thedriver would need to climb back in his car and repeat the race another 9,000times.
That'sbecause NASA plans to fly three of the green flags on its next space shuttlemission, scheduled to launch in December, in celebration of its own 50thanniversary and the 50th year of NASCAR's Daytona 500, as first reported by theOrlando Sentinel.
The flagswill be stowed aboard space shuttle Atlantis as it embarks on the STS-122mission to the International Space Station where it will deliver the Europeanscience laboratory, Columbus. When the planned 11-day mission lands back onEarth, two of the flags will be returned to NASCAR, which in turn will presentone to the winner of the Daytona 500 while placing the other on public displayat the Florida racetrack.
The thirdflag will be kept by the space agency. "It will be used as a 50thanniversary commemorative piece," said NASA spokesperson John Yembrick inan interview with collectSPACE.com."It may be given to the Smithsonian, we do not know yet."
NASA haslisted the Daytona 500, which NASCAR bills as "The Great AmericanRace," on its website's calendar of officially-recognized events that willmark the agency's founding 50 years ago on October 1, 1958. The inauguralDaytona 500 was run on February 22, 1959.
David Talley,spokesperson for the Daytona International Speedway, told collectSPACE.com thatin addition to the flags, NASA is working with NASCAR on other crossoverevents, the logistics of which are still being finalized, but may includeastronaut-driver promotions and, according to the Orlando Sentinel, anin-flight press event involving the shuttle crew and Daytona drivers.
"Allof that is being discussed. We're in the early stages of planning," saidYembrick.
The threegreen flags will be flown as part of the STS-122 Official Flight Kit (OFK), asmall package of mementos carried on each flight to award organizations thatsupport the crew's success. During the previous shuttle mission in October,NASA flew a proplightsaber in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Lucasfilm's "StarWars" franchise.
Accordingto Talley, this may be the first time NASA has collaborated with the Speedway and NASCAR to promote the Daytona 500, outside of ticket packages combiningaccess to the racetrack and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. NASA hashowever, highlighted the use of its technology in the design of NASCAR racecars and the material used to protect their drivers.
"Wehave had a connection to NASCAR for some time," said NASA's News Chief atthe Kennedy Space Center, Allard Beutel. "Flags are small, easy to fly.It's something easy we can do, and adds extra sentimental value for somepeople."
"It'sanother way to reach an audience we don't normally reach," Beutel toldcollectSPACE.com.
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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.