JUNEAU (AP) -- A Tlingit bear mask owned by Sealaska Corp. is going into space this week.
The carved, wooden bear mask will go aloft on the space shuttle Discovery on its scheduled Thursday launch in Florida and will be taken aboard the International Space Station now orbiting Earth, Sealaska spokesman Ross Soboleff told the Juneau Empire.
It was Sealaska shareholder Richard Cogo who first got NASA officials thinking about sending a Native artifact into space.
Cogo, who works for Boeing on space missions, joked with his friend, astronaut William Shepherd, about needing an Alaska Native on his space crew.
Shepherd agreed something representing Alaska Native heritage could probably fit into the space available. Eventually, Sealaska submitted the dimensions and weight of the mask, which has been in its collection since the mid 1980s, Soboleff said.
''It is 9 inches high by 6 inches wide and 4 inches deep. It weighs 1 pound 15.5 ounces; we had to be very precise about its specifications,'' Soboleff said.
Because the mask will represent all Native American cultures, Soboleff researched its significance with members of Southeast Alaska's bear clan, including Esther Shea, a Tlingit matriarch who lives in Ketchikan. He passed on all he learned to Cogo.
Shepherd will live on the International Space Station for four months. It's not known whether the mask will remain in space or Shepherd will bring it back with him, Soboleff said.
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