Christian Missions Aviation…In Space

Updated with NASA’s “What’s Going Up?”

When space shuttle Discovery finally lifts off (after two unsuccessful attempts so far), it will carry a crew of seven and a very unique piece of missionary aviation history.

Mission Specialist Patrick Forrester is taking up a piece of Nate Saint’s missionary aircraft.  Nate Saint was one of five missionaries martyred by the Ecuadoran natives they were evangelizing in 1956.  The incident was international news at the time, and brought attention and interest in the fields of missions and missionary aviation.

Astronaut Patrick Forrester is an Army helicopter pilot and graduate of the US Naval Test Pilot School.  This will be his third shuttle flight in his 16 years with NASA.  In taking up a piece of the bush aircraft, Forrester notes the importance of his faith and his hope that he can inspire an interest in missionary aviation: 

Bringing attention to and renewing interest in missions would be a great result of this experience…My deepest intent is to honor Nate Saint, the Saint family and all missionaries around the world.

As is often emphasized here at, Forrester notes that people should serve God where their passions and talents lie:

Whether you are an astronaut, a missionary or something else, Forrester has a simple approach to discovering what career journey you should take. “There are so many needs out there,” Forrester said. “People need to figure out where their passion and their talents intersect with God’s plan for the world…We are all called to serve God in some manner.”

The aircraft piece came from Mission Aviation Fellowship (see links) and will be returned to them with a certificate after the space flight.

Elisabeth Elliot, one of the widows of the martyred missionaries, wrote a book on her experience many years ago (Through Gates of Splendor).  The story was made into a documentary in 2002 (Beyond the Gates of Splendor) and a feature film in 2006 (End of the Spear).

Update: NASA’s “What’s Going Up?”

NASA posted an announcement on August 26th explaining in detail what each of the astronauts was taking up on the mission with them, as well as the history of the tradition. The article was part of “What’s Going Up?”, which is normally an audio summary of what each astronaut is taking on the flight as his personal effects.

Astronauts are allowed to take small items into space with them to celebrate their achievements and connections. Some of the items remain in personal collections after they return to Earth, while many find public homes around the world as mementos of exploration and inspiration…

There also are scores of items that NASA and other organizations included in the shuttle lockers. Like the items carried by the astronauts, the agency items will be prized upon their return.

Update: Baptist Press

The Baptist Press released an article describing Forrester’s missions (both in space and in Africa).  He also gives an interesting perspective on whether being an astronaut–an exclusive and elite group–is “all there is.”