NASA flies religious artifact aboard shuttle Discovery

Of all the things that NASA has flown into space over the years–including a Buzz Lightyear action figure–this is one of the weirdest.  The shuttle Discovery is in orbit right now, delivering several tons of equipment and supplies to the International Space Station.  Also aboard, according to the Los Angeles Chronicle: “a piece of an airplane that crashed in Ecuador in 1956 that carried members of the Missionary Aviation Fellowship.”

Never mind that it costs thousands of dollars per pound to take things into space–this just seems bizarre.  And unconstitutional.  I suppose there must be some policy respecting astronauts’ rights to take personal items into orbit, and presumably it would include religious items like Bibles, talismans and other trinkets.  But according to the report, this artifact from Missionary Aviation Fellowship is aboard as “part of a government funded exploration project.”  To explore…what?  Stupidity?  Inanity?  I don’t get it.  [Update: I have tried–without success–to get to the bottom of exactly what this “government funded exploration project” is.  The complete original sentence from the LA Chronicle is: “One of the shuttle astronaut contacted the Idaho-based group proposing that the item be taken into space as part of a government-funded exploration project.”  Upon reflection (and after speaking personally to American Atheists President Ed Buckner and VP David Silverman), I have concluded that what the newspaper meant to say is that NASA itself is the government-funded exploration project, and that it is inappropriate, in general, for astronauts, as government employees, to use their personal privilege to propagandize for something that would otherwise be considered a violation of the Constitution; e.g., the prohibition against government employees using their professional positions to promote religious viewpoints. In this case, astronaut Patrick Forrester, who has a connection to Missionary Aviation Fellowship, appears to be going out of his way to advertise the transport of this artifact into space, and American Atheists consider this inappropriate and a violation of the principle of separation of church and state.]

Would NASA ever, under any circumstances, approve lofting into orbit some artifact aimed at publicity for American Atheists, or any other freethought-related organization?  Of course not.  (The question is moot anyway, since freethought organizations have too much respect for separation of church and state.)

You can read Missionary Aviation Fellowship’s spin on the matter in their press release titled “Mission Aviation History to Hitch a Ride on the Space Shuttle.”

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