When the space shuttle Discovery next takes flight, perhaps later this week, it will carry a piece of missionary history with it into outer space.

On board Discovery will be a piece of the plane used by members of Missionary Aviation Fellowship, who were killed more than half a century ago in Ecuador by Waodani tribesman, the ministry announced.

Astronaut Patrick Forrester contacted the Idaho-based ministry about carrying a memento from the plane that had been used by pilot Nate Saint and four other missionaries before their deaths in 1956.

Their story was depicted in the 2006 movie End of the Spear.

"Bringing attention to and renewing interest in missions would be a great result of this experience," said Forrester, who was born the year after the missionaries were killed, in a statement. "My deepest intent is to honor Nate Saint, the Saint family and all missionaries around the world."

The item from the battery box of the plane was approved by NASA and will be returned to Missionary Aviation Fellowship with a certificate showing it was part of a space flight.

Forrester, who has served as a short-term missionary, learned about the missionaries when he attended a concert of Christian artist Steven Curtis Chapman, who told the audience their story. Some of the tribesmen involved in the killings were later converted to Christianity by relatives of the slain missionaries.

NASA announced Wednesday that the shuttle could launch Friday, depending on weather conditions. The trip to the international space station had been postponed due to a valve malfunction.

Related Elsewhere:

Mission Aviation Fellowship has more details on its website.

Christianity Today's coverage of The End of the Spear and other developments include:

Martyrs to the Spear | Fifty years after five missionaries were murdered in Ecuador, their story still inspires. (March 10, 2006)
The Rest of the Story | Half a century after killing five missionaries, the 'Auca' find themselves on the cutting edge of modern missions. (Jan. 18, 2006)
Did They Have to Die? | Forty years after five missionaries lost their lives in the Ecuadorian jungle, the killers explain what really happened. (September 16, 1996)
Martyrs' Lost Plane Recovered in Ecuador | It's likely the plane flown by Nate Saint just before he was killed by Auca Indians in 1956. (August 15, 1994)