If you were stuck on a desert island…

By Shelbi Etscorn

Most of us are familiar with the childhood game of deciding what item you’d want to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island. These answers usually revolve around things that would help with survival: a compass, a knife, a fishing pole, a tent. While it’s hard to argue any of those things would be invaluable on a desert island, my favorite version of this game always revolved around the things you’d bring that had nothing to do with practicality. Things like what book would you like to have to possibly read over and over, what three songs would you want uploaded on your iPod, or simply what personal item, only meant to bring comfort, would you like to have by your side.

It’s an outlandish scenario. No one trapped on a desert island has the opportunity to grab one comfort item before getting trapped there short of possibly the contestants on Survivor. There is one other scenario that, while not the same as being trapped on a desert island, is similar as far as being about as far away from civilization as humans have ever been, and completely isolated from…well the entire world. The men and women who have made trips into space know that feeling very well.

While NASA and the equivalent government agencies in other countries go to great lengths to make sure their astronauts have all the practical things that will ensure their survival, we humans are a sentimental group, and sometimes it isn’t enough just to have the things that are compatible with life.

Inspired by not only my childhood game but also Bob and Doug’s recent voyage on the Dragon Endeavor, aboard which they took a stuffed toy dinosaur purportedly picked out by both of their children as the toy they wanted to see in space, I decided to look into what other items of sentimental value were taken into space. Here’s a few that I found:

Many of us have seen popular Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield happily playing his guitar while on the International Space Station (ISS). The guitar was Chris’ own, and it remains on the ISS today, so that future occupants can enjoy it the same way Chris did.

As a child, Mike Massimino watched, as did the rest of the world, the United States’ historic lunar landing. Massimino was greatly inspired by viewing this event, and at six years old, he was photographed wearing a space suit that he had made himself, posing next to a Snoopy Doll, also in astronaut garb. As an adult, Massimino made two trips to the ISS, taking with him the Snoopy Doll from the photograph. The Snoopy Doll would later be a fixture on the corner of his desk in his office, reminding him not only of his achievements, but his childhood wonder at humanity’s achievements in the world of space travel.

Michael Good, an astronaut on the last servicing mission for the Hubble Telescope, took with him to space a St. Christopher medallion, and his and his wife’s wedding rings worn on a chain around his neck. The wedding rings are touching for obvious reasons, but I also took great pleasure in his choice of bringing the St. Christopher medallion. For those who may not know, St. Christopher holds the place in the Catholic religion as the patron saint of travelers. As the story goes, Christopher, being a strong and large man, served God by helping travelers cross a dangerous and swift river, where many had perished attempting to do so. One day, a young boy came to the river, but as Christopher began to cross the river with him hoisted on his back, the waters of the river rose, and the boy began to become unbelievably heavy on Christopher’s back. Heavier and heavier until Christopher thought he would not make it. But Christopher pushed on, and eventually made it to the other side of the river and to safety for both him and his passenger. Upon their safe arrival to the other side of the river, Christopher said to the boy, “You have put me in the greatest danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were.” The child in response said, “You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work.” As a traveler who also has the weight of the world on his shoulder by pushing the limits of the human existence, I found this quite the apropos choice as a creature comfort for the astronaut.

While the previous items were all taken with the express approval from NASA, this last item was actually smuggled aboard the mission. Wally Schirra, NASA astronaut, purportedly made the decision to sneak not only scotch but cigarettes aboard during one of his expeditions into space. Ironically enough, Schirra had attempted to quit smoking many times, much to the joy and annoyance of his wife who said he was unbearable to live with while he was in the process of attempting to quit. Because of this, on a later mission, Schirra purposely chose to not bring cigarettes, so he could go through the withdrawal period without any possible temptation to relapse and far away from his wife, for her sake.

The stories of the personal items taken into space are many and varied.  They also lend themselves to a fun thought game you can play with yourself. What would you choose to bring into space that served only the purpose of enriching your time there? If you find yourself stuck, try and think of this quote (very paraphrased) by CS Lewis: Friendship, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself is unnecessary. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival. What things in your life give value to your survival?