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Historic Piece of Wright Brothers' Original Plane on Board Thursday's Space Shuttle

Press Release From: First Flight Centennial Commission
Posted: Monday, October 2, 2000

There will be plenty of valuable cargo on board the Space Shuttle Discovery when it launches from Kennedy Space Center on Thursday.

None will be more historic, however, than a small piece of fabric from the original ``Wright Flyer,'' the first airplane successfully flown by Orville and Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk, NC on December 17, 1903.

The four-inch swatch of muslin was given to North Carolina's First Flight
Centennial Commission by the late Wilkinson "Wick" Wright, grand nephew of
the Wright brothers and a former commission member. The Commission lent the
swatch to the crew of STS-92 for this, the 100th Space Shuttle Mission.

It was the North Carolina connection that led to the space shuttle crew's interest in the Wright Flyer.

``STS-92 Mission Specialist Col. Bill McArthur helped launch our statewide education program,'' said Dr. Kathryn Holten, Executive Director of the First Flight Centennial Commission, the official North Carolina agency charged with promotion and celebration of the upcoming 100th anniversary of flight.

``As a native North Carolinian, Col. McArthur is very proud of our state's role in the birth of flight. Transporting the fabric to the international space station is a great way to symbolize the significance of the first flight that changed the world and how far we have come in just 100 years -- from the dunes to the moon!''

The fact that the fabric even exists is a story in itself. The Wrights purchased the fabric from a Dayton, Ohio dry goods store and used it as a covering for the wings of the now famous ``Flyer.''

Following the four successful flights of December 17, 1903, however, an accident severely damaged the aircraft, and the genius inventors packed the remaining parts in crates and shipped them back to Dayton, where they remained until 1916.

In 1916, the craft was assembled and exhibited until 1925, when in preparation for shipment to England, it was re-covered. The original fabric was then stored and remains largely in possession of the Wright family.

The fabric will accompany Col. McArthur and the seven-member crew of STS-92 during its 11-day mission. The purpose of the mission is to transport and install pivotal hardware for assembly on the International Space Station. The launch is scheduled for Thursday, October 5 at approximately 9:40 PM EDT.

This is the final Shuttle flight to the Station before the arrival of the first permanent crew, Expedition 1, in November. Mission highlights will include robotic arm operations, four space walks to configure the components, and the first-ever operational use of the Common Berthing Mechanism to connect components to the space station.

For information about the launch and mission of STS-92, visit the official NASA web site at www.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/countdown or log on to the First Flight Centennial Commission's site at www.firstflightnc.com

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