Flags, patches and pins representing the diverse history of the United States and its space exploration efforts will be on board the next launch of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, the aerospace company has revealed.
The colorful banners from 14 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have been packed alongside Rosie the Riveter medallions and Silver Snoopy pins on board the Starliner capsule, which is set to make a second attempt at reaching the International Space Station on Boeing's uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2).
"By representing HBCUs on our Starliner mission, we are demonstrating our commitment to working with these institutions to advance equity and inclusion and help ensure a bright future for their students," David Calhoun, Boeing's president and CEO, said in a statement issued Thursday (June 17). "Closing representation gaps in our company and our industry is a priority for Boeing, and inspiring diverse students to pursue careers in aerospace is an important part of that effort."
The OFT-2 launch atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida is targeted for July 30.
The HBCU flags and other mementos will be part of the approximately 760 lbs. (345 kilograms) of cargo and supplies flying on the Starliner. NASA's division of the cargo, weighing about 440 lbs. (200 kg), will include food and other items for the astronauts now on the space station.
Starliner will also deliver clothes, sleeping bags and other provisions for Crew Flight Test (CFT) astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore, Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke in anticipation of their follow-on mission to the space station. The OFT-2 and CFT missions are critical milestones on Boeing's path toward flying crews for NASA, as they complete and surpass the objectives that were missed on the problem-plagued OFT-1 flight in 2019.
To commemorate moving from uncrewed to astronaut missions, Boeing will fly a U.S. flag on OFT-2 that will remain on the station until it is brought back to Earth by the CFT crew.
Other American flags will fly alongside those from the HBCUs, remaining on the Starliner for the entire OFT-2 flight. The represented universities are: Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Spelman College, part of the Atlanta University Center Consortium; Alabama A&M University; Florida A&M University; Howard University in Washington, D.C.; Morgan State University in Maryland; North Carolina A&T; Prairie View A&M University in Texas; Southern University and A&M College in Louisiana; South Carolina State University; Tennessee State University and Tuskegee University in Alabama.
A few other schools where Boeing has recruitment partnerships will also be represented on the mission, including Allen University in South Carolina, where the company is establishing the Boeing Institute on Civility. The institute will be a national hub for teaching and programming aimed at advancing civil discourse in America and across the globe.
Additional commemorative cargo on OFT-2 will include Silver Snoopy pins, which are presented by NASA astronauts to those who directly contribute to the success of human spaceflights, and an ID card signed and used by Boeing's founder, Bill Boeing, to travel the U.S. by air. The same card previously flew on board OFT-1.
"As I looked at the card, I wondered if [Bill Boeing] would have thought we'd go this far and build our own spacecraft and would he be proud of us," said Melanie Weber, subsystem lead for crew and cargo accommodations. "I hope that he is."
Rosie the Riveter commemorative coins will also make the trip to space on OFT-2.
The coins were created to celebrate last year's passage of the Rosie the Riveter Congressional Gold Medal Act, which honors nearly 19 million American women who rose up and filled a critical gap in the aerospace industry as men went off to fight in World War II. The coins, which were designed to recognize the impact of Rosie Riveters and inspire future generations, will be used post-flight to celebrate student and Boeing employee achievements in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The coins and other mementos of what Boeing hopes will be a successful flight will also serve as ballast, standing in for the mass of a four-person crew.
"The cargo is extremely important when taking into account the weight and center of gravity of the vehicle. Every piece plays a role," Dee Dobson, a Boeing systems engineering technician who helped pack and weigh the cargo as part of Starliner's crew and cargo accommodations team, said.
The practice of carrying souvenirs on U.S. spacecraft can be traced back to the first satellites and vehicles sent into space. Similar mementos have been launched on many uncrewed and all crewed missions into Earth orbit, to the moon and the International Space Station.
Click through to collectSPACE to see video of the flags, patches and pins being prepared for flight on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
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