University of Delaware
"Flat Samantha" in the cupola of the International Space Station. Photo by Gregory Johnson/NASA

Mission accomplished

'Flat Samantha' back home from historic NASA flight


2:35 p.m., Sept. 15, 2011--“Flat Samantha,” a paper-doll replica of her human creator, seven-year-old Samantha Oliver, is now back home after an “out-of-this-world” adventure aboard the historic final flight of NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour.

The journey started in April when the real-life Samantha, daughter of Matt Oliver, assistant professor of oceanography in the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE), found out that Doug White, UD research associate and NASA Twitter follower, was selected to attend the NASA Tweetup for the final launch of the space shuttle Endeavour

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Disappointed that she couldn’t attend the launch at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, Samantha took matters (and scissors and markers) into her own hands and created a paper proxy of herself, and asked White if he could take “Flat Samantha” with him to witness the launch, or moreover, see if he could get Flat Samantha aboard the shuttle’s last flight. 

White took Flat Samantha to the Kennedy Space Center for the STS-134 NASA Tweetup on April 29, but the launch got scrubbed. As White talked with NASA colleague Beth Beck about Flat Samantha, the possibility of fulfilling Samantha’s wishes began growing brighter. A few days later, White got an email saying that space shuttle pilot Gregory Johnson would do what he could to get Flat Samantha into space. 

The Space Shuttle Endeavour blasted off for its 134th and final flight on May 16 under Commander Mark Kelly. The event, which White was able to attend, was made even more joyous by the presence of Kelly’s wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who had been seriously injured by a gunman in Tucson in January, and was able to watch the launch. 

Among the tasks completed during the mission, Endeavour delivered the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a state-of-the art particle physics detector, to the International Space Station, as well as spare parts for Dextre, a two-armed robot that is part of the space station’s mobile servicing system.

And Flat Samantha was along for the ride—Johnson uploaded a picture of Flat Samantha taken in the cupola of the International Space Station. 

Once back on terra firma, Flat Samantha’s journey home “was not via a FedEx envelope or the like,” as White notes in his Ocean Bytes blog. Johnson hand-delivered Flat Samantha to real-life Samantha at a mission debriefing at NASA headquarters in August in Washington, D.C., as Samantha’s parents, White, students in UD’s ORB (Ocean Exploration, Remote Sensing, Biogeography) Lab and NASA employees looked on.

White thanks NASA on his blog for making “one little girl’s wishes come true” and for bringing that excitement to the rest of the world. 

“The employees and representatives of NASA embody the compassion, the ‘can do’ attitude and the educational and outreach expertise that the rest of us should pay close attention to,” White notes. “We are all honored to have been included in these adventures and their memories that we will carry with us for a lifetime. Rocket On NASA!”

Article by Tracey Bryant

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