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Smurf in space; Science teacher’s lesson reaches the final frontier

Fluhr sits with a model of the rocket that took the smurf, the mission patch and the collage of photos of students.
Contributed photos

By Isabel Braverman
February 6, 2013

EAST STROUDSBURG, PA — In November 2011, East Stroudsburg Area School District teacher and Shohola, PA native Joe Fluhr was met with a chance of a lifetime—to send a personal belonging into space. Fluhr has been teaching space science to children for nearly a decade. His students learn about aerospace science and exploration and they build and fly their own model rockets. Now, they were going to be a part of the “real deal.”

Fluhr, a collector of space memorabilia outside of school, was contacted by a German company that serves that hobby. They mentioned in their letter that they had an association with a Russian cosmonaut and there was a possibility of having a personal item flown to space. Because items belonging to private citizens are rarely taken by the NASA shuttles, let alone a Russian rocket, this presented an extremely rare opportunity.

After discussing this prospect with the students of Leh-man Intermediate, and considering the weight restrictions, Fluhr decided on a toy astronaut Smurf. The Smurf had served as a “test pilot” for the space-related toys he had as a child growing up in Shohola, and Fluhr would stick the Smurf up in a pine tree and stare at it from the ground. Little did he know he would one day see it fly into space.

This same Smurf also flew several times inside a working high power rocket used in his science class demonstrations. The only difficulty was that the cosmonaut agreed to take only flat items such as a photo or letter. An exception would have to be made. After some negotiation—and cleaning off the 30 years of grime from all the years of play—the cosmonaut agreed to take the Smurf, the first toy sent to space, with the Russians.

Knowing he was a science teacher, the Russian and German contacts wanted to do something special for Fluhr’s students. They asked him to take photos of all the children in Lehman Intermediate School and arrange them in a collage so their pictures could also go to space. That photo was sent with the Smurf to Germany and passed on to the Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. Once there, it was placed in the personal belongings pack of the cosmonaut and carried to the Russian Space Center at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.