Arizona oncology nurse Jean Baruch had mastered the technical aspects of her job, but felt she could do more to provide the emotional care children with cancer required. And when she noticed how much children with serious illnesses loved crafts projects during summer camp, especially those involving beads, she leapt into action.
Baruch founded Beads of Courage to take the joys of beading into a pediatric hospital setting, using the beads to symbolize a child's spirit, strength and patience during the many medical procedures they often endure. Although the concept grew from one hospital in 2004 to more than 60 hospitals around the world, even Baruch probably never dreamed these special beads would travel to outer space [source: Bannan]. However, when a NASA contractor whose daughter was battling cancer requested the beads accompany astronauts in the space shuttle Atlantis in May 2010, that's exactly what they did [source: Roy].
The beads' journey symbolized not only the strength and resilience of children, but the powerful human element at the heart of space exploration.
Author's Note: 10 Offbeat Things Humans Have Launched Into Space
Science-related assignments are among my favorites because I always learn something new. Not only is this knowledge handy as a party conversation-starter (who was the last celebrity to be buried in space?), but it reminds me how much there is to discover. I can only imagine how the astronauts -- and everyone involved in space projects -- must have felt to land on the moon, command the Mars Rover or look out of a window and see the Earth's beautiful orb below. I was especially touched to read about the ingenuity of teenagers and doting fathers, each determined to explore space in their own way -- and with the help of a child's toy. Now if only I could get my hands on a weather balloon.
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Astronauts undergo serious training before becoming approved for space travel. HowStuffWorks looks at the 10 most surprising steps in NASA training.