August 27, 2007 — When the space shuttle Discovery launches the STS-120 crew in October, the force will be with them.
Stowed on-board the orbiter, in addition to a new module for the international space station, will be the original prop lightsaber used by actor Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in the 1983 movie "Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi". The laser-like weapon is being flown to the orbiting outpost and back in honor of the 30th anniversary of the George Lucas-created franchise.
Before it can make its trip to orbit though, the lightsaber will first fly to Houston, Texas, home of NASA's Johnson Space Center, by way of Southwest Airlines and a Star Wars-studded send off from Oakland International Airport in California on Tuesday.
Chewbacca, the towering Wookiee best known from the film as Han Solo's co-pilot on the Millennium Falcon, will officially hand the lightsaber over to officials from Space Center Houston during a ceremony at the airport. Joining "Chewie" will be other characters from the six-part sci-fi classic, including Boba and Jango Fett and together they will help push back the airplane on the tarmac.
Once on the ground in Houston, the flight will be greeted by a troop of Stormtroopers and other Star Wars notables including the droid R2-D2, who will deliver the lightsaber to a waiting line of Hummers outside the baggage claim of the William P. Hobby Airport. Accompanied by a police escort, the soon-to-be real space artifact will be driven to Space Center Houston to be exhibited inside a vault that currently displays moon rocks.
Space Center Houston, as the official visitor center for NASA's Johnson Space Center, plans to publicly display the lightsaber through Labor Day, after which it will be prepared for its launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The lightsaber is scheduled to depart California at 10:40 a.m. PDT and arrive in Texas at 4:20 p.m. CDT according to a release jointly issued Monday by Southwest Airlines, Space Center Houston and Lucasfilm.
STS-120, targeted for launch on October 23, will be led by commander Pam Melroy and pilot George Zamka. The seven-person crew is completed by mission specialists Scott Parazynski, Doug Wheelock, Stephanie Wilson and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli, as well as space station Expedition 16 flight engineer Dan Tani. Besides the lightsaber, their primary cargo is the station's second Italian-built U.S. multi-port node named Harmony.