Level 3 Mortlock Wing State Library of South Australia North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000

Space exploration poster & fragment of Stuart’s tree which travelled into space

A framed collage of NASA’s 1996 Space Shuttle Endeavour mission and a fragment of wood from a tree blazed by renown explorer John McDouall Stuart that was taken on the Endeavour voyage by Dr. Andrew Thomas (Australia’s only astronaut) as one of his personal mementos.  These items are unique and together represent a connection of exploration of both land and space by South Australians.

The framed collage illustrates the mission of Endeavour STS 77, May 19-29 1996. The crew patch incorporates a reflection of Earth and is oriented to show the individual countries of the crew as well as the ocean which Captain Cook explored in the original Endeavour.

Astronaut Dr. Andy Thomas from NASA contacted the Society before his flight, asking for a piece of Australiana to take into space, May 1996. The Society arranged to send a piece of tree marked by John McDouall Stuart at Chambers Bay N.T. 1862. The piece of tree was sent via diplomatic bag through the USA embassy in Canberra to Florida for the trip. The piece of tree travelled 6.5 million kilometres (4.1 million miles) and orbited earth 160 times. On Stuart’s expedition was FG Waterhouse, Andy Thomas’ great grandfather. Waterhouse went on to become one of the S.A. Museum’s early directors. The box for the piece was made by students at Adelaide Technical High School in 1936.

Space shuttle collage

Described as Australia’s greatest inland explorer, John McDouall Stuart led six expeditions across Australia, becoming the first European to cross the continent from south to north through the centre and returning without loss of life. Stuart’s six trips from 1858 to 1963 solved the global geographical riddle of what was in the centre of Australia and answered the question of the presence of an inland sea.

On his final expedition a tree was blazed on the north coast of Australia. It subsequently was destroyed by fire soon after other Europeans visited the site and souvenired specimens of the then living tree. The tree was defined as proof of Stuart’s successful expedition – it was suggested by some non-South Australians that the expedition had never reached the sea.

RGSSA catalogue reference R88 A & B.  Both items are on display in the Society's Library.

A letter exists from Dr Charles Fenner 4/11/1940 which says the piece of wood was donated by Dr. Holtz. A letter from Dr Andy Thomas 1996 from NASA ascertains the safe return of the object. Refer to GeoNews April/May 2011.