July 27, 2012 – The Olympics officially launch today (July 27) in London, but it was a NASA mission from 12 years ago that first lifted off to space with 2012 Summer Games’ memorabilia.
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.
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 was “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.”