Why flower bouquets regularly appear in NASA mission control

Three red roses and one white. The bouquet of flowers that is currently in NASA Mission Control in Houston is one of a series that has appeared with every mission since 1988 – a small gift from a Texas family whose members are longtime fans of space exploration.

The first bouquet appeared on the day of landing for the first flight (STS-26) after the explosion of the shuttle Challenger. And the bouquets have continued for every flight since, a gift NASA is happy to see when it arrives.

“It means a lot to the team here in Houston,” NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said in the above YouTube video from a NASA TV show. “We are committed to the tradition here at NASA, and we are very happy that this tradition continues.”

Each red rose symbolizes a member of an expedition crew – in this case, Steve Swanson (NASA) from Expedition 39/40, Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos), and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos). White is a symbol of all astronauts who lost their lives, such as those in the Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia disasters.

Four years ago, when the 100th bouquet arrived at Mission Control, an STS-26 flight director described what happened when he saw the flowers in 1988.

“When I first walked into the control room, I noticed them right away, because it was so different, and I walked over and read the map,” said Milt Heflin, who was a shuttle flight director at the time. “It was very simple, congratulating and wishing everyone the best for the mission. It was signed but there was no contact information for the senders.

Helfin managed to reunite with the family – Mark, Terry and daughter MacKenzie – and over the years the Sheltons have received thank you cards and invitations to attend launches and Mission Control.

The Shelton family on a visit to NASA Mission Control in Houston in 1990. Left to right: Steve Stitch, Terry Shelton, Mark Shelton and his daughter MacKenzie. They regularly send flowers to NASA since the STS-26 shuttle mission in 1988. Credit: NASA

“I only really decided to do it on the day STS-26 was supposed to land, and I didn’t even know I could do it in time,” said Mark Shelton, who added that he was first interested in space after a childhood visit to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in the 1960s.

“I called the information to find a florist near the space center, then asked the florist if he could deliver roses to Mission Control. At first they said they couldn’t do it… but then they said they would try.

The attempt was successful, of course, and with each mission new flowers arrive. The bouquets now include the participation of a “second” generation, Byerly said in the video, saying they are now from the Sheltons and Murphys.

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