The STS-101 mission came a few months before the start of the 2000 Summer Olympics held in Sydney, Australia. To pay tribute to the international nature of the Games, the shuttle’s crewmates carried a banner for the Olympics and a replica of the 2000 Sydney Torch.But the flag and flameless beacon weren’t the only items commemorating the Olympics that were on board Atlantis. Stowed inside a locker was a small package of souvenirs for the Summer Games set to take place 12 years into the future — though not in London.Space shuttle Atlantis blasted off on May 19, 2000, on a 10-day mission to the International Space Station. Aboard the orbiter were supplies for the nascent complex, which at the time comprised just two of its eventual 12 modules.
Houston, (can) we have an Olympics?
Every NASA space shuttle mission carried a small pouch of souvenirs, called the Official Flight Kit, or OFK, packed with mementos to thank the NASA employees and outside organizations who helped make the mission possible.
The space agency would also sometimes use the OFK to fly items for outreach projects and for groups supporting the local communities around NASA centers, such as the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
As Atlantis orbited high above the Earth, Houston was in the running to be the U.S. Olympic Committee’s bid city to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, competing against New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.-Baltimore.
(Ultimately, the U.S. committee selected the Big Apple — Houston was eliminated in 2002 — but New York City lost out to London when the International Olympic Committee voted in 2005.)
NASA, in support of bringing the Olympics to Houston — home of Mission Control and the U.S. astronaut corps — launched aboard Atlantis 1,000 lapel pins for the Houston 2012 Foundation. The organization described its role as “to identify, package and communicate the reasons why Houston is the best place for the 2012 Olympic Games.”
The lapel pins were the shape of the space shuttle orbiter with the foundation’s stylized Texas flag torch logo at their center. Under the red, white and blue torch was inscribed, “Houston 2012.”
After Atlantis returned to Earth, the pins, which circled the planet 155 times and traveled 4.1 million miles (7.6 million kilometers), were returned to the Houston 2012 Foundation for distribution to its members and supporters.