You CAN Take It With You!
I am frequently asked whether astronauts could take personal items with them on their Shuttle flights. Yes – within the rules. The rules were created after the Apollo 15 crew took a stack of envelopes to the moon and postal stamped them there, intending to sell them after the flight. Afterwards NASA made that strictly against the rules. No astronaut could personally profit from the sale of items flown in space, but that wasn’t to say everything had to stay back on Earth.
The concept of the Personal Preference Kit (PPK) was introduced to formalize the carrying of mementos by the astronauts on their missions. Before each flight a proposed list of items for the PPK and their recipients had to be approved by NASA.
The contents of a PPK were limited to 20 separate items, with a total weight of 1.5 pounds which had to fit in a small 5′′×8′′×2′′ bag provided by NASA. This let crewmembers fly small personal items as gifts for family, friends and people who had served a special role for the flight. What kinds of things were flown?
By far the most common mementos were silver or gold medallions with the crew patch on them. Specially made for each flight, they had blank areas on the reverse side that would be stamped with launch and landing dates when they came back from space. (A small F was stamped along the outer rim of the ones that were taken on the flight making them very special.) There were also things like wedding rings and special jewelry; but anything that could pass the NASA inspection and fit in the bag could be approved to go.
We also had an Official Flight Kit (OFK) with mementos for organizations or groups that were special to the crewmember. Each item had to be approved by NASA. There was real diversity in this group of items. For instance, I flew a pennant for my university, a sorority pin, pictures of our training team and a ball cap for an athletic team. When I asked the mayor of my home town what I could take for the city he came up with an ingenious idea. He got a long roll of calculator tape and had every student in town sign it. They could all say their signature flew in space. It was very special to return these gifts to the recipients.
We were also allowed to stow two personal items that could be brought out of our lockers inflight. Almost everyone took a picture of their family (except one who was single and brought a photo of his cows) and a bumper sticker. Not much but with seven crew members it provided some decoration in an otherwise dull environment.
We could wear personal jewelry as well. Being clever people, some crew members were creative with their definition of “personal jewelry”. There were some incidences where astronauts wore several watches up their arms and multiple necklaces (remember Mr. T?). Smart people will find ways to stretch the rules to take something special with them.
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Very interesting article. Are you aware of any types of items that weren’t allowed to fly and who actually had the final say beyond the Chief Astronaut?
Can’t remember anythig, Fitz. Thanks for being on my email list! Rhea
I seem to remember a photo of you in space holding a scarf emblazoned with the ‘Australian Women Pilots’ Association’ on it.
Goodness, Robyn, it has been so long I don’t remember. That probably didn’t happen because although I may have taken a scarf like that to space, it would have been packed away where I couldn’t get to it inflight. Thanks for being on my email list! All the Best, Rhea
Since it was canceled so soon before lift-off, were any medallions created for STS-51E (same as 51D but with different payload specialists and on Challenger instead of Discovery) and were any flown and/or retained by crew members on 51D?
Rhea, I sent you an email about a personalized inscription for my granddaughter in your book I ordered yesterday but I’m not sure if you saw it. Please reply to my email if you found it. Thank you so much.