OUT OF THIS WORLD: Airport director’s business card, pin go into orbit

If you could send something to space, what would you choose?

For some, the answer might be a great work of art, something worth sharing with the universe. For others, it might be a message in a bottle, so to speak, written in the hopes of one day reaching someone in another galaxy. For others, it might be as simple as an American flag.

For Columbus Municipal Airport Director Brian Payne, the answer was a C-119 lapel pin attached to his business card.

“I was looking for something that was meaningful to me and meaningful to the community,” he said.

Just over a year ago, Expedition 63 Flight Commander Chris Cassidy and other crew members launched aboard Soyuz MS-16 to the International Space Station. The team flew in space for 196 days and orbited the Earth 3,136 times.

Before he left, Cassidy’s wife asked her family if there was anything they wanted to send with him to the International Space Station. Her niece, Rachel Yancer of Edinburgh, decided to send her business card and also reached out to Payne about the opportunity.

“Brian is a good friend of mine, and we’re in Rotary together,” Yancer explained. “And I said, ‘I know that you love space. Would you like to send something up?’”

Yancer said that items sent to the space station had to be small and light, and there were also other parameters, similar to how certain items are banned on airplanes.

Payne said he wanted to find a way to represent Columbus and settled on his C-119 lapel pin. C-119 “Flying Boxcars” are significant to Columbus, most prominently seen in the efforts of Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum volunteers to re-assemble a restored C-119 for display at the airport.

“It’s just such a cool project that I think is going to last for decades and have an impact on people’s lives for decades,” Payne said.

Pilots referred to flying boxcars as the “Dollar Nineteens,” according to museum records. From 1957 to 1969, 36 C-119s for the 434th Troop Carrier Wing were stationed at Bakalar Air Force Base, which is now Columbus Municipal Airport. The C-119s were a staple in Columbus, flown out of the base longer than any other aircraft.

Payne said the main reason he attached his business card to the pin was to have something that pointed out that the items were from Columbus, Indiana.

He said that he watched Cassidy’s takeoff and followed his progress during the expedition. The crew launched on April 9, 2020 and returned on October 21, 2020. About two weeks ago, Payne received his card and pin back, along with a certificate of authenticity signed by Cassidy himself.

“It was certainly something that I’ll treasure here in my office,” he said.

Payne and other residents might have the chance to meet Cassidy face-to-face later this year.

Yancer said her uncle is looking at making a visit to the area and speaking at GreenTree Assisted Living (where she works) in October, if NASA and COVID-19 conditions allow for it. She said that this tentative event would be open to the public.

“I think that would be really cool, to be able to meet him in person and have that connection,” Payne said.

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Chris Cassidy (Captain, U.S. Navy) was selected by NASA to be an astronaut in 2004 and is a veteran of three space flights: STS‐127, Expedition 35, and Expedition 63.

During expedition 63, Cassidy and fellow astronaut Robert Behnken completed four spacewalks to upgrade station batteries.

According to NASA.gov, "While on station, he contributed to hundreds of experiments, including a study of the influence of gravity on electrolytic gas evolution, which looks at bubbles created using electrolysis. Cassidy also worked with Astrobee, cube-shaped, free-flying robots that may one day assist astronauts with routine duties, and conducted research for the Onco-Selectors experiment, which leverages microgravity to identify targeted cancer therapies."

Overall, Cassidy has accumulated 378 days in space. In October, NASA ranked him fifth out of NASA astronauts with the most cumulative days in space. 

More information about Chris Cassidy and Expedition 63 is available at nasa.gov.

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To learn more about the C-119 ‘Flying Boxcar’ project, visit atterburybakalarairmuseum.org/.