Fifteen years after NASA opened its archive of space artifacts to schools and museums, the program still has a lot to give.
The space agency recently began accepting applications for its 60th screening of spent equipment, science instruments and small hardware that was flown into space. Approved educational institutions, libraries and planetariums will be able to request artifacts at no cost other than shipping and handling.
"NASA's artifacts program offers an opportunity to encourage the next generation of science, technology, engineering and math students — the Artemis Generation — and many other space enthusiasts, with these priceless artifacts to share the agency's awe-inspiring accomplishments," said Lauren Katz, exhibits and artifacts program manager at NASA, in a statement. "We have a simple process online now for eligible institutions to secure their chance to participate in this unparallel event. We hope many apply!"
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Access to the full inventory of artifacts is limited to the screening participants only. NASA, though, identified a dozen items as highlights. Among them are detailed scale models of the Hubble Space Telescope, vintage replicas of the Saturn V moon rocket and miniatures of the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft that completed the first joint U.S. and Russian space mission in 1975.
For institutions with more (floor) space, FORCAST and HAWC are up for grabs. These two large instruments flew on board SOFIA — the now-retired Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, NASA's specially outfitted Boeing 747 — detected water on the moon's sun-lit areas and studied polarized light from the interstellar medium, respectively.
Speaking of grabs, a spare mechanical arm from NASA's Viking landers is also being offered. The hardware is a leftover remnant from the United States' first exploration of the surface of Mars.
When NASA partnered with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), one of the first items that was made available was something the space agency had in droves. Even after 60 screenings, NASA still has space shuttle thermal protection system tiles available, which perhaps should not be too surprising given that more than 20,000 tiles were installed on each shuttle orbiter to shield the vehicle's metal skin from the heat of reentry into Earth's atmosphere.
Other items in the current catalog include a specialized bag designed to carry circuit cards and a glove, part of the extravehicular mobility unit (EMU) spacesuit worn by astronauts on spacewalks, which were both used for mission training.
NASA considers an item to be an artifact if is associated with achievements or improvements in technology; the understanding of the universe; or important or well-known personalities. NASA centers and the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum have first right of refusal on artifacts being released from the agency's holdings.
If after receiving an artifact, the new custodian (as NASA refers to the recipients) decides it no longer desires the item, it generally has to offer the agency the artifact's return within the first five years of ownership. Since 2009, the agency has assigned more than 13,000 artifacts from its collection to locations in all 50 U.S. states.
According to a NASA, organizations eligible to become custodians include other federal agencies, universities registered in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), K-12 schools registered in the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and not-for-profit museums, libraries and planetariums that are eligible to receive federal property. Museums need to be designated as a 501(c)(3) organization to participate.
The deadline to apply for the 60th screening is June 30. NASA expects even more artifacts to be offered in additional rounds to come.