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6,000 Flags Aboard Shuttle Endeavour
Honor Those Lost September 11, 2001

Space Shuttle Endeavour on its way up to space
Some 6,000 small American flags were carried to orbit by the seven-member crew of space shuttle Endeavour on flight STS-108 on Dec. 5, 2001, to honor the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

An American flag flown over the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and New York City Police Department shields also flew aboard Endeavour.

Later, the flags were to be distributed to the attack victims' families and survivors.

Legacy of flags in space. The legacy of taking American flags to space started in 1961 with the flight of the first American astronaut in space, Alan Shepard. For his flight, students from Cocoa Beach, Florida, Elementary School purchased a flag from a local department store. They rolled the flag up and placed it between cables behind Shepard's head inside his Freedom 7 Mercury capsule.

The NASA Administrator at that time, Daniel S. Goldin, said, "The American flags are a patriotic symbol of our strength and solidarity, and our Nation's resolve to prevail." The program is called "Flags for Heroes and Families."

Police shields. NASA presented space-flown flags to each New York fire house and police precinct that played a role in the rescue and recovery efforts. Administrator Goldin presented the city of New York and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani with an American flag carried into space on a previous space shuttle flight.

In return, New York City Police Department Detective Michael Jermyn presented Adminstrator Goldin with a large tattered American flag flown over the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and recovered by the city police department. The flag and several police shields presented by Detective Jermyn, were aboard Endeavour flight STS-108 when it lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center.

STS-108 was the 12th space shuttle mission to visit the International Space Station (ISS).

Flag returns home. That large tattered American flag recovered from the debris in the days immediately following the terrorist attacks in New York, and flown to space in Endeavour, was returned to the city on Flag Day, June 14, 2002, in a ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History's Rose Center for Earth and Space.

The current NASA Administrator, Sean O'Keefe, returned the large flag, police shields and other items flown to orbit to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Governor George Pataki, and representatives from the New York City Police Department, the New York City Fire Department and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

American members of the Expedition Four crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) sent down a commemorative message for the ceremony. Those crew members had been carried into space by Endeavour and were preparing to come home after setting a record for length of time spent by Americans in a space flight.

NASA wanted the families of Sept. 11 victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania to have some of the smaller American flags and other items flown to honor the memory of the victims at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania so ceremonies to distribute them to survivors and families were arranged by the City of New York, the Department of Defense, American Airlines and United Airlines.

A new station crew. The Endeavour STS-108 flight launched dec. 5, 2001, delivered the ISS Expedition Four crew for a five-month stay at the ISS -- Russian cosmonaut Expedition Four Commander Yuri Onufrienko and American astronaut Flight Engineers Carl Walz and Dan Bursch. They ended up staying 194 days, which transferred the American space endurance record to Walz and Bursch. They landed back on Earth June 17, 2002.

U.S. astronaut Dominic Gorie commanded shuttle flight STS-108. U.S. astronaut Mark Kelly served as pilot. U.S. astronauts Linda Godwin and Daniel Tani were mission specialists for the shuttle flight.

Endeavour returned the ISS Expedition Three crew down to Earth. Coming home after almost four months on station were U.S. astronaut Expedition Three Commander Frank Culbertson, Russian cosmonauts Pilot Vladimir Dezhurov and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin.

Record year in space. As shuttle flight STS-108 ferried the fourth crew to the International Space Station, it completed a record-breaking year of missions as well as the first phase of assemblying the space station in orbit.

Endeavour flight STS-108 carried the Italian logistics module Raffaello loaded with supplies and experiments to the station.

[Learn more about U.S. shuttle flights, including STS-108, and the International Space Station.]

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