Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Robonaut Hand, Ship Bearing Head to Space

Robonaut 2 went into space on shuttle Discovery’s STS-133 to show that humanoid robots can work there. A Robonaut hand and arm unit is going up on the following shuttle flight, Endeavour's STS-134 mission to commemorate the work done on Earth for the project.

The robotic appendage is one of dozens of commemorative items the crew of Endeavour's mission are taking with them to mark their own achievements and that of NASA's youngest shuttle on its final flight.

After Endeavour returns from its two-week stay aboard the International Space Station, the commemorative items will be displayed in museums and collections around the world.

The Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, England, loaned a 3-inch wooden ball from the 16th century ship "Mary Rose" so it could sail in the vast ocean of space. The "Mary Rose" was one of the first purpose-built warships and was raised in 1982 after more than 400 years underwater. The ball, called a "parrel," was part of the mechanism used to raise sails up the masts.

The "Mary Rose" has one more connection to NASA: astronaut Michael Foale worked as a volunteer diver on the ship's excavation in 1981. The astronaut would later fly the space shuttle, to the Russian space station Mir and to the International Space Station.

Another museum-sponsored piece will go into orbit, the 5-star insignia worn by General Henry "Hap" Arnold, an architect of the modern Air Force. The insignia belongs to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, which holds numerous items from Arnold in its collection.

A number of the items on Endeavour's Official Flight Kit manifest, such as pins, flags and patches, will be given as awards after returning to Earth.

Some of the items will be awarded to Boy Scouts who earn the new robotics merit badge. There are 100 of the merit badges going along with Endeavour.

The astronauts are allowed to pick personal items to take into orbit, too. Sometimes they choose mementos of their accomplishments or things associated with their hometowns or other locations.

A small gold bar from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy will make the trip inside Endeavour. STS-134 Commander Mark Kelly graduated from the academy in 1986.

A poem from the Tucson Poetry Center in Arizona also is making the trip, along with an Archie Comics comic book cover.

Objects ranging from a metal disk from the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Rome to a pennant from Tuscany are representing Italy on STS-134, the home nation of European Space Agency Mission Specialist Roberto Vittori.

The objects continue a tradition of taking items into space that began with NASA's first astronauts. During the 50 years of astronauts launching into space, commemorative objects have flown to the moon's surface and made repeated orbits of Earth, returning later to inspire those who could not make the trip themselves and remind astronauts of their accomplishments.

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