Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Two Dollar Bill Space Travelers

Astronauts, ground support crews, and even a few cosmonauts, have sometimes carried or sent U.S. $2 bills into the deep, black void of space during many historic missions that span manned spaceflight history.

They took or sent these bills home as mementos, good luck charms, or simply favors for family or friends.

This 1953 Series A $2 bill, serial number A60730193A, is hand signed by Lt. Col. John Glenn, his backup pilot, mission capsule communicator and fellow Mercury Astronaut Scott Carpenter, and Joe Trammel, the launch crew member who placed the bill in the capsule and wrote "Good Luck, John" on it before the flight.

This series 1953 bill, with serial number A10241591A, was first taken into orbit by Gene Cernan on Gemini 9A as a favor to his father, who made the habit of carrying this bill with him in his wallet for good luck. Gene’s father died in January of 1967, before he could return the bill to him. In memory and in tribute to his father, Gene later flew the bill into lunar orbit on Apollo 10, coming within just 8.4 miles of landing on the lunar surface. He also took it with him on the historic Apollo 17 mission, the last lunar landing of the Apollo program – and the bill made its way to the lunar surface, traveling with Gene and Harrison Schmitt in the spacecraft Antares to the Taurus Littrow Valley. It is the only such bill flown on each of these flights, and the only known bill of any denomination flown on three separate space missions. It is one of the few rare space artifacts in private hands to have achieved low Earth orbit, lunar orbit, and to have landed on the lunar surface. Additionally, the bill was exposed to the vacuum of space twice – once during the EVA of Gemini 9A, and again during the trans-Earth EVA of Ron Evans during the return trip of Apollo 17. Finally, the Apollo 10 mission holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for the fastest speed attained by a manned vehicle at 24,791 miles per hour – making this bill the only such bill to ever experience such a high rate of speed. As such, it is the rarest and most significant space flown bill of any denomination in existence.

Many of these $2 bills, some with signatures of the astronauts, are on display at the Jefferson Space Museum

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