Space Stories from My Christmas Tree

The Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World exhibit is as much a Chicago holiday tradition as it is a celebration of cultural Christmas traditions. Looking at the trees this year, I thought about the stories we tell through the ornaments and decorations we place on our trees.

Growing up, decorating our family Christmas tree was always a special event. Every ornament went on our tree while we shared family stories tied to each heirloom’s origin and significance.

If you visit my home and ask about the ornaments on my tree, you’d hear space stories that spanned the years working to cover the space industry. Our ornaments tell our stories, the traditions we celebrate that have inevitably been shaped by our love and passion for space.

These are some of my favorite ornaments and the space stories they commemorate.

The Asteroid Bennu Ornament

An asteroid squishy stress ball that I turned into an ornament. I got it during the OSIRIS-REx launch in September of 2016. That launch turned out to be amazing and magical for personal and astronomical reasons. On the way to grab lunch, I got engaged! Looking back, so many launches and missions hold connections to personal milestones.

The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Ornament

I still get a good chuckle out of this ornament every time I see it on the tree. While covering NASA’s Ascent Abort test launch a colleague shared a funny story. Legend has it, a space photographer of time gone by fixed his camera on the lighthouse instead of the launchpad. The next day I spotted this ornament in a gift shop and, I knew I had to have it.

That test launch was incredible and will probably be the only time I ever witness anything like it.

The Alamo Ornament

This beautiful piece is another ornament with a space story behind the travel story. On the way to NASA JPL for the InSight landing event, we stopped at The Alamo in San Antonio. What was supposed to be an epic road trip west over the holiday, with stops planned on the way and visits with family and friends, turned into a race to California. Our car rental company overbooked clients and we struck out at rental company after rental company, days passed, and snow fell before we got on the road.

Almost everything but the working to cover the landing and quick visits with family was canceled or not possible. Seriously, the Alamo was closed, it was snowing at the Grand Canyon, no time to swing by Meteor Crater anymore and, we made it to the coast in time to “see” the Pacific Ocean at night, and the same for Griffith Observatory so, we still need to do all those things. But it was still fun and exciting and an adventure together that we shared and laugh about now when I see this hanging on my tree.

The Rocket Ornament

A family member gifted me this rocket ornament this year. I love that family and friends love my passion for space enough to pick out special items like this for me. Whenever I see this rocket ornament, I’ll remember that love.

Also, 2021 was a first when it comes to rockets, as in the first year, I didn’t get to see one launch. This dry spell will end.

The Orion Ornament

Another squishy turned ornament. I have several of these from different events but, this one was given to me when I attended an engine test at NASA Stennis.

If you’ve never felt the rumble of a rocket engine, it’s an entire body experience. I was reminded of the feeling while watching STS-135 take off and felt that power again when SpaceX launched a Falcon Heavy.

The Sputnik Ornament

I made this ornament to commemorate a stop on a space-themed road trip I took. Three hours north of Chicago, in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Sputnik IV came crashing down in a blaze of fire. It was September 1962. A metal ring in the middle of the street marks the spot and a small display in a house museum nearby. It’s an interesting story, a cute town and, they have an entire festival dedicated to the event, Sputnikfest.

I took a little creative license commemorating this specific space event, because Sputnik I, not Sputnik IV, looked like this.

The Cernan Ornament

I don’t think most realize how many ties Chicago has to space and astronauts, and the Cernan Earth and Space Center helps tell one of those stories. Located in River Grove, about twenty minutes from downtown Chicago, Cernan is a planetarium attached to Triton College and just down the street from where Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan grew up. They are also in possession of a nice collection of Apollo, Cernan, and rocketry items that are worth a trip out to see.

I went back to Cernan for the first time since childhood to look at the exhibits. It is definitely worth the trip, especially once the planetarium reopens to the public.

The Astronaut Snoopy Ornament

I wanted this Astronaut Snoopy ornament back when Hallmark came out with the collection, but I missed out. Then the Charles Schulz Museum put together a traveling exhibit, To the Moon: Snoopy Soars with NASA, in 2019. Because of COVID, we didn’t get to see it until earlier this year when it came to the suburbs of Chicago- I wrote about it, HERE.

I mentioned I was hunting for astronaut Snoopy to a family member that is something of a collectibles finder and owned one thirty minutes later. The exhibit is heading to Albuquerque, NM, and future museum stops announcements are HERE.

The Mackinac Island Ornament

Going to Mac has been on my bucket list forever! And I bought this ornament to commemorate a road trip north to view the partial solar eclipse that occurred this past summer. It was a sunrise eclipse that we watched from the banks of Lake Huron as it rose in the sky next to Mackinac Island. We later explored Mackinac and decided that the Island deserves a dedicated trip!

The Castillo San Marcos Ornament

Another launch-related travel ornament! We made a last-minute decision to drive out to Kennedy Space Center for Crew Demo-2. I had no plans or reservations in place just knew I wanted to stay in the car and away from people as much as possible (Crew Demo-2 was in May 2020).

And then the launch scrubbed, so we had three days free to figure out and fill. We spent time creating content but then took time for safe-distance outdoor sightseeing. We walked the beaches, hiked a state park, and drove up to St. Augustine to see Castillo San Marcos, which was closed. And if you haven’t already noticed a pattern, we have a workcation problem.

Visit Christmas Around the World at MSI

The Christmas Around the World exhibit is open at the Museum of Science and Industry until January 3rd. You can view ticket prices, hours, and information HERE.

The single Christmas ornament I found on a tree. The tree of Slovakia dedicated an ornament to Ivan Getting, son of Slovak immigrants, who developed GPS and worked for Raytheon and Northrop.

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