When Richard Garriott blasted into orbit three years ago, following in the footsteps of his astronaut father, he didn't go empty-handed. He brought with him 20 paintings and photographs to put on temporary display within the cramped confines of the International Space Station (ISS). That artwork, which Garriott brought home 12 days later, along with six more pieces he created on board the ISS, was on display recently on Manhattan's Lower East Side as part of an exhibit called Celestial Matters, organized to benefit a group of learning centers created in memory of space shuttle Challenger's tragic final mission.

The initial 20 pieces of art—works by 10 different artists—were selected for Garriott's mission based on each piece's interpretation of space and the impact it could have on astronauts living and working there. The cargo also included five watercolors that came from the brush of Helen Garriott, Richard's mother. Richard Garriott's own artistry—an interpretation of the "action painting" made famous by Jackson Pollock—took advantage of the ISS's microgravity environment. Instead of splashing paint on a canvas, Garriott built a paint box that allowed droplets of paint to form spheres that would float over and stick to the paper inside the box.

Photographer Melinda Fager submitted one of her photos—"Cornish Cow"—in 2008 after hearing about the competition to have artwork displayed in the orbiting outpost. Fager's photo and the other artwork ferried to and from the station was later auctioned off to benefit the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, founded in 1986 just three months after the post-liftoff accident that claimed the lives of seven NASA crew members. Fager liked that the proceeds would go to help the Challenger Center's network of 48 learning facilities. "And I thought it was a kick that the cow went up over the moon"—so to speak—she says.

"It was not an obvious choice, but it was so homey," Garriott says of "Cornish Cow." "In space you're trying to create a homelike environment. It's the antithesis of the mechanical surroundings of the space station in orbit."

See a slide show of Garriott's space mission and the artwork displayed on the ISS.

Garriott, son of Skylab astronaut/scientist Owen Garriott, flew to the ISS as part of Space Adventures, Ltd., a Vienna, Va., company in which he has invested. He entered orbit not as a tourist but rather as a civilian astronaut whose to-do list included snapping nearly 500 pictures of Earth and participating in a series of experiments to test spaceflight's impact on his immune system, sleep patterns and eyes. (His vision was corrected by laser surgery more than a decade ago.)

Garriott has been an avid support of the Challenger Center network, noting that they offer a place where students, teachers and other curious people can learn more about the science and technology involved in space travel. Plans are underway to expand the centers into the virtual world within the next year and a half. The online effort will include Web-based educational games, simulated space missions and other opportunities to bring the center's content to a wider audience, says Steven Kussmann, the organization's acting president. This is particularly important for students in grades five through eight to nurture their interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as the curriculum becomes more sophisticated.