MELBOURNE, Fla. – Ever since the early days of spaceflight, humans have been carrying earthly things into space.
Most are practical: science experiments, gear for astronauts, vomit bags and tools. But some items that have made it to space were not so ordinary – or they were too ordinary, depending on who you ask.
SpaceX is scheduled to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket no earlier than 11:30 p.m. ET Monday night from Kennedy Space Center pad 39A for the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program-2 mission.
Among the thousands of objects we’ve launched into space, these are some of the most unexpected:
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Toys and memorabilia
In the Toy Story films, Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase is “To infinity, and beyond!” And one Buzz Lightyear action figure made that a reality when it flew to the International Space Station with the Discovery STS-124 mission in 2008. The toy astronaut spent 15 months aboard the ISS before safely returning to Earth.
In 1985, astronauts realized all our childhood fantasies when they brought an assortment of toys into orbit to test them in microgravity in an effort to teach students back on Earth about physics.
The Juno spacecraft carried tiny Lego figurines of the Roman god Jupiter, the goddess Juno, and astronomer Galileo Galilei on its mission to the planet Jupiter. Several astronauts have also brought Lego figurines aboard the ISS.
“Little Earth,” a small plush replica or our beloved blue planet, made internet waves earlier this year when the adorable toy hitched a ride on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule in an uncrewed test. “Little Earth” seems to have been enjoying its time on the ISS.
Luke Skywalker’s original lightsaber prop from the Star Wars film franchise got a ride to the ISS to celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary in 2007.
In the sports world, dirt from Yankee Stadium, a NASCAR starter flag, the New York Mets’ home plate and all kinds of jerseys have made pilgrimages to the stars.
Those of us who never make it to space in life have a chance to go there after death on a memorial spaceflight. For a sizable fee, several companies now offer to launch a tiny portion of a deceased loved one’s ashes beyond Earth’s orbit.
Some notable Earthlings’ remains have already been committed to the stars. A few of those people are:
- Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry
- Actor James Doohan, who played “Scotty” on Star Trek
- Scientist Eugene Shoemaker, who co-discovered the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9
- Mercury 7 astronaut Gordon Cooper
- Apollo astronaut and Skylab pilot William Pogue
- Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930
- 1960s counterculture icon Timothy Leary
- Rocket scientist Krafft Ehricke
- Lockheed-Martin engineer Patrick O’Malley
Aside from the regular supplies sent to the ISS on uncrewed flights, a few more interesting culinary delights have managed to make it into space.
In 2001, Pizza Hut spent a reported $1 million to become the first pizza chain to deliver to space. Specifically, they sent a pie to cosmonaut Yury Usachov, who was having a bit of a pizza craving while aboard the ISS.
Food cravings are no joke for spacefarers. Astronaut John Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich aboard Gemini 3 in in 1965. Young and his partner on the mission, Gus Grissom, sampled the sandwich in flight, but decided to put it away because it turns out sandwiches are not exactly easy to eat in microgravity.
And then there’s the somewhat tragic story of the tandoori lamb chop that in 2014 briefly slipped the surly bonds of Earth courtesy of a weather balloon. The strange undertaking was meant to promote Nikesh Shukla’s novel “Meatspace.” While the lamb chop sadly didn’t survive its crash landing back on Earth, the GoPro camera that was attached to it produced some astonishing footage.