Doug Mattice, a spokesman for Space Center Houston, said that the prop -- used when Mark Hamill played Luke Skywalker and fought Darth Vader -- would ride aboard the shuttle Discovery, which is scheduled for launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on October 23. It will be docked at the International Space Station and travel around Earth's orbit before returning to Earth.
Space Center Houston, the official visitors' center for NASA's Johnson Space Center, will display the famous movie weapon for visitors before returning it to Lucas Films, which arranged the trip with NASA.
"There is so much star power behind Lucas Films and Star Wars, and the fit is so natural," Mattice said during an interview Wednesday.
NASA once flew Hasbro game tokens from a Monopoly "Here and Now" edition. This time, the deal has drawn much more attention.
Still, Mattice was uncertain whether there would be an official loading ceremony or other opportunities for Star Wars fans to see the lightsaber aboard the shuttle or space station.
"I think it's going to be stowed," he said. "We would love for them to get it out and play with it in space but I don't think that will happen. We were hoping to get some excitement, but this is huge. Maybe the astronauts will get excited about it and say 'Can we take it out?' That would be wonderful but I don't know at this point."
NASA relies on public support and funding and does many things to draw increased attention to its programs and activities. It reaches out to schools, holds live discussions with astronauts in space, and streams live video and audio footage of astronauts, their conversations, and their work.