CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Columbia's astronauts played a prank Saturday and beamed home a picture of 'killer tomatoes' attacking a school-bus sized science satellite rescued by the crew.
'Be sure to bring the harvest home with you,' astronaut Steve Oswald radioed from mission control in Houston.
The 11-ton Long Duration Exposure Facility, hauled aboard the shuttle's cargo bay Friday, exposed a variety of earthly materials -- including 14-million tomato seeds -- to the hazards of space for 5 years.
Patricia Rudroff, a 'photographic artist' in Houston, doctored an 11-by-14 inch picture of LDEF at the request of astronaut Marsha Ivins, etching in giant red tomatoes on green vines entwining the 12-sided satellite.
The space shuttle astronauts transmitted a videotape of the picture Saturday, accompanied by the theme of the motion picture, 'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.'
'We saw something that was kind of strange so we got it on the cam-recorder and we thought we'd show it to you,' commander Daniel Brandenstein joked. 'It's probably a first in a long-line of experiments with the tomatoes that have been on LDEF.'
'You had probably the major bit of our science demonstration for this one, ha, ha, ha,' Brandenstein added.
Rudroff said she met Ivins through a friend.
'Apparently, behind the scenes, they're always playing jokes on each other, especially the ground crew, and they thought it would be fun to play a trick on the ground crew,' she said.
'Marcia, I would say, is probably the craziest of the bunch,' Rudroff added. 'She looks very serious all the time, but she's really nutty, you know. But she's a very smart person.'
The LDEF tomato seed experiment is sponsored by the George W. Park Seed Co., of Greenwood, S.C., to determine how plants are affected by space radiation and other hazards. Back of Earth, the seeds will be distributed to science students across the nation for further study and, perhaps, lunch.