As NASA prepared to launch its STS-26 mission in 1988, a special delivery arrived at Mission Control in Houston: a bouquet of roses, one for each astronaut taking part in the mission, and a white rose to honor astronauts "whose lives have been lost in NASA's exploration of space." Tucked inside was a note of well-wishes.
"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 card," JSC Associate Director Milt Heflin, who at the time was the shuttle flight director, said. "It was very simple, saying congratulations and wishing everyone the best on the mission. It was signed, but it didn't have any contact information for the senders."
As for who signed the card? Mark, Terry, and their daughter MacKenzie Shelton. The Dallas-area family had no connection to the nation's top space agency, they just happened to be a fan of the space program.
According to NASA, Mark Shelton had been a fan of space since he visited the Johnson Space Center as a child in the 1960s. Following the Challenger tragedy, Shelton said he wanted to find a personal way to let the agency know he and his family supported the work it was doing.
"I didn't actually decide to do it until the day the STS-26 mission was to land, and I didn't know that I even could get it done in time," Shelton said, per NASA. "I called information to find a florist near the space center, and then I asked the florist if they could deliver roses to Mission Control. At first, they said they couldn't do it, but then they said they would try, but I had no idea if they actually made it or not."
The flowers, once a mystery, have now become a decades-long staple.
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