1. Amelia Earhart’s Watch
As an aviation pioneer, it shouldn’t be that surprising to find out that Amelia Earhart was an inspiration to many female astronauts. One of those astronauts is Shannon Walker who took Earhart’s watch into space in 2009. But this wasn’t just any timepiece. It was the watch worn by Amelia Earhart during her two transatlantic flights. The watch is now in the possession of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots whose members included Amelia Earhart and astronaut Shannon Walker.
2. LEGO Figurines
Three LEGO characters were sent aboard the Juno orbiter on its mission to Jupiter in 2011. It was part of a joint partnership program between NASA and Lego in order to get kids more interested in science. The three characters were Roman gods Jupiter and Juno and astronomer Galileo who discovered Jupiter’s largest moons.
3. Buzz Lightyear
Pretty much the same thing as the Legos happened with Buzz Lightyear in 2008, but it does make sense as Buzz is a known space-enthusiast. The partnership between NASA and Disney resulted in a space trip for Buzz aboard the Discovery space shuttle and an educational outreach program for kids named the Space Ranger Education Series.
4. Isaac Newton’s Apple Tree
We’ve all heard the story of how an apple falling on Newton’s head gave him the idea for his law of gravity. While the story is most likely apocryphal, the apple tree is real and a bit of it went into space. The piece was loaned by the Royal Society to English astronaut Piers Sellers who took it aboard the ISS in 2010.
5. Corned Beef Sandwich
Astronauts have a history of sneaking certain items up into space and this tradition started with Gemini 3 pilot John Young. During the early days of space exploration, the Gemini missions were precursors to the Apollo missions as NASA was still figuring things out. During the Gemini 3 mission, Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich aboard the rocket and politely offered to share with companion Gil Grissom. Grissom took a bite but then concealed the sandwich after noticing that it was starting to break up. They feared that floating crumbs could damage the electrical instruments which is why non-smuggled food items had a gelatin layer on top to prevent this from happening.
6. Yankees/Mets Memorabilia
It seems that the rivalry between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets is too big to be contained on this planet and has started expanding into outer space. In March 2008, astronaut and Yankees fan Garrett Reisman carried some dirt from the pitcher’s mound on Yankee Stadium on the Endeavour space shuttle. Just a few months later, Mets enthusiast Mike Massimino went up with the home plate from Shea Stadium.
7. Gene Roddenberry’s Ashes
We already talked about this one here. It’s not surprising that the creator of Star Trek was a big space fan so it was fitting for his ashes to get launched into space.
Salmonella samples were sent up in 2007 to see what a low gravity environment did to the bacteria. As it turns out, it makes it way more powerful. After spending 12 days orbiting the Earth aboard Atlantis, the space salmonella was three times more potent than the control from the same strain kept on Earth. This raises a lot of health concerns regarding astronauts on long space missions.
The unsanctioned tradition of astronauts smuggling items into space culminated in a scandal during the Apollo 15 mission in 1971. The astronauts took 400 unauthorized stamps with them to the Moon (398 actually – 2 were destroyed during packaging). They were planning to sell 100 of them to the stamp dealer who provided them and keeping the other 298. These stamps were in addition to 243 other stamps that were taken with the approval of NASA. While this wasn’t illegal or even prohibited by NASA, once the word got out about the stamps Congress had a hearing and NASA took disciplinary actions against the astronauts involved.
10. Wright Flyer 1
It was fitting for one of aviation’s greatest artifacts to also be one of the first manmade things on the Moon. And while the Apollo 11 astronauts obviously didn’t take the entire plane aboard their shuttle, they did take a piece of wood and fabric. The feat was repeated in 2000 during NASA’s historic 100th mission.