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The Personal Preference Kit: What Astronauts Take With Them To Space
by Staff Writers
Houston TX (SPX) Nov 16, 2020

What goes up must come down. File image of astronaut Chris Cassidy on cleaning duties.

NASA recently asked the public what items they would take with them on a trip to the Moon, inviting more than 11,000 responses on social media, submitted using the hashtag #NASAMoonKit. Moon kit responders submitted pictures and videos that either depicted a metaphoric view of what they would bring, or took a more technically accurate approach of following "Expert Mode" that followed actual Personal Preference Kit (PPK) dimensions: 5" by 8" by 2" (12.7 cm x 20.32 cm x 5.08 cm), which is about the size of a lunch box.

"The Moon Kit idea came up as we were checking off milestone after milestone, getting closer to the launch of Artemis I," explained Kathy Lueders, NASA's Associate Administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. "As excitement mounts for the first Artemis mission, we wanted a fun way to get people thinking about humanity's return to the Moon."

With #NASAMoonKit, we are learning about what the general public would bring on a journey to the Moon, but what do real astronauts take with them on missions into space? Information about the items that astronauts take with them is usually kept very private, but typical PPK items include family photos, organizational flags, t-shirts, ball-caps, books, religious texts, and personal mementos.

The use of the PPK dates back as far as the Gemini program, but the PPK looked a little different then. Gemini astronauts were allowed to carry personal objects in a grey nylon bag, about 6" x 7" (15.24 cm x 17.78 cm), which could be closed with a drawstring. Mercury and Gemini astronaut Wally Schirra shared the content of his Gemini 6A PPK, which included Navy wings, a Florida hunting license, 20 gold medals, 5 silver medals, various flags, and 15 GTA-6 patches.

The PPK got a bit of an upgrade for the Apollo missions. The standard Apollo PPK bag measured 8" x 4" x 2" (20.32 cm x 10.16 cm x 5.08 cm). Sometimes the items taken aboard were used later to be given to people as awards - for instance, a sphere of aluminum that astronaut Frank Borman took with him on the Apollo 8 mission was used to strike 200,000 medallions for those who contributed to the Apollo program.

Among the items carried by Michael Collins during the historic Apollo 11 flight to the lunar surface were three flags; the U.S. Flag, the flag of the District of Columbia, and the flag of the U.S. Air Force. In response to the #NASAMoonKit challenge on Twitter, Michael Collins responded: "I'd still want coffee and would add a good book."

During the Apollo 12 mission, the astronauts did not just take the one mission plaque to leave on the Moon - they took four thin aluminum light-weight copies with them in their PPKs. The copies they returned to Earth went to the three crew members, Charles "Pete" Conrad Jr., Richard Gordon, and Alan Bean. Conrad's next-door neighbor who made the copies for them, Jack Kinzler, received the fourth copy.

During the Space Shuttle era, the contents of a PPK were limited to 20 separate items which had to fit in a 5" + 8" + 2" (12.7 cm x 20.32 cm x 5.08 cm) bag. The bag also had a weight limit of 3.3 lbs (1.5 kg). Shuttle astronauts were also allowed an Official Flight Kit (OFK), in which they were allowed to bring mementos for organizations that were important to the crewmember.

Astronaut Rhea Seddon, veteran of three space shuttle flights, took with her a pennant for her university, a sorority pin, and a ball cap for an athletic team. She also took a long roll of calculator tape with signatures from every student in her hometown, so they could all say their signature flew in space.

Today, on missions to the International Space Station, both the Soyuz spacecraft and the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft allocates 3.3 lbs (1.5 kg) for personal preference items. Many astronauts bring musical instruments to the space station and leave them there for future use.

For his 39th birthday in 2017, ESA astronaut Thomas G. Pesquet's Expedition 50 crewmates surprised him with an alto saxophone that they had conspired to be delivered to ISS and had somehow managed to keep hidden from him. Lots of astronauts also bring camera gear, as photography is a favorite pastime when orbiting above fantastic views of Earth.

As the Artemis program continues to take steps to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon, astronaut will soon begin preparing what will go into their actual #NASAMoonKits. What would you bring?

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