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Shuttle program's real fuel: Two decades of M&Ms

Turns out the candy-coated bits of chocolate have been aboard every shuttle mission, starting with Columbia's 1981 launch right up to the farewell launch of Atlantis this week.

Astronaut Loren Shriver fuels up aboard Atlantis on a 1992 mission. NASA

"We've been honored to fly on more than 130 missions with hundreds of American heroes over the last three decades," Debra A. Sandler, chief consumer officer of Mars Chocolate North America, said in a statement. "It's bittersweet to see this program, which has inspired millions to reach for the stars, come to an end, but we wish the crew of Atlantis a safe and successful mission."

Red, blue, and gray commemorative M&Ms with July 8, 2011 printed on one side and a rocket on the other them have been spotted figuratively floating around the CNET offices and are literally floating around the Space Shuttle Atlantis in zero gravity this week.

In addition to being included in NASA's space food system and finding a place on the menu of the International Space Station, M&M's are also part of a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute's National Air & Space Museum and have inspired at least one cool science experiment about how best to distribute glucose in zero gravity.

Now I guess we know why NASA hasn't made contact with extra-terrestrials yet. Everyone knows E.T. prefers Reese's Pieces.