Shuttle's Cargo Celebrates Discovery's Distinguished History

Discovery's final voyage into orbit will carry symbols reminiscent of the great voyages of other ships by the same name.

A medallion from the Royal Society honoring legendary explorer Capt. James Cook will be carried aboard the space shuttle during STS-133. Cook's third expedition of the vast Pacific Ocean included a ship named HMS Discovery, one of the vessels shuttle Discovery is named after.

The astronauts flying Discovery during the STS-133 mission to the International Space Station don't have to be told of its significance.

"I don’t think you can take a final voyage of a ship of exploration and not take some moments to celebrate its history," said Mission Specialist Michael Barratt. "And I think many people know that our ship, Discovery, which is a ship of exploration, was named after several predecessor ships also named Discovery, all ships of exploration."

After all, Discovery has gone into orbit more than any other shuttle, or any other spacecraft for that matter. Early in its career, Discovery provided a base so astronauts could retrieve satellites, test new technologies and conduct two-week-long experiments in microgravity. NASA turned twice to Discovery for Return-to-Flight missions after accidents with shuttles Challenger and Columbia, and it launched the agency's landmark observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope.

In the last several years, Discovery has helped shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour complete the International Space Station.

Astronauts routinely carry into space mementos from schools, military units and tokens from institutions in the communities they grew up in or live in. After they come back, the crew members typically present them to the sponsoring organization or person in hopes that the item will inspire or give hope to future explorers.

In the case of the STS-133 crew, such items include a medallion from the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology. STS-133 Commander Steve Lindsey graduated from the institute before becoming an astronaut.

Also flying on Discovery will be two small LEGO space shuttles, each with a tiny toy astronaut, to help celebrate a new educational partnership between the toy-building brick maker and NASA.

Some of the items can be off-beat. For instance, a small action figure of William Shakespeare, from the University of Texas English Department, will be a passenger on Discovery. As will a plush giraffe, the mascot of the Hermann children's hospital at the University of Texas.

While many of the items Discovery astronauts are carrying are one-of-a-kind, there are also hundreds of American and Discovery flags, mission patches and space shuttle bookmarks. As with the other commemoratives, the larger collections are meant to inspire and reward.

"Again, you can not, not celebrate the history and the heritage of this ship and we plan to continue that certainly after we land," Barratt said.

Steven Siceloff
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center

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