A plush toy that hitched a ride on a historic trip to the International Space Station is making headlines and capturing hearts across America. Toymaker Celestial Buddies, which has a line of plush toys representing the Sun, Moon, and planets, is becoming famous in the space community for serving as a “zero-g indicator” on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon demo flight to the International Space Station (ISS.)
The toy rode in the Crew Dragon demo flight, alongside “Ripley.” Ripley is an anthropomorphic test device in a space suit, which SpaceX officials prefer to call a “smarty” rather than a “dummy”. Ripley is sitting in one of the four seats inside the Crew Dragon. SpaceX has named the mannequin “Ripley” after Sigourney Weaver’s character in the “Alien” films. According to SpaceX, Ripley is fitted with sensors around its head, neck and spine to gather data on the environments astronauts will experience when they ride the Crew Dragon.
The Celestial Buddies toy has no sensors, but on-board cameras inside the spacecraft monitored the toy for signs of microgravity as it traveled to the ISS. Now in space, American Astronaut Anne McClain has been using the toy as a mascot of sorts around the space station, posing it it different situations.
The Earth on board is available for purchase at some stores and online retailers. However, a new and improved version of the planet debuted at the New York Toy Fair last month. The new plush toy, known as “Our Precious Earth”, offers more detail than the version on the ISS.
“I think for members of the public, the real fun thing will be seeing the little Celestial Buddy, little tiny Earth, humanoid Earth thing, floating around in zero-g. I think the public will be most excited about that,” said Musk at a post-launch press conference on Saturday morning. Prior to launch, use of the toy was kept a secret. The secret was uncovered when Musk Tweeted about it just hours prior to launch. “Super high tech zero-g indicator added just before launch,” he Tweeted.
While Earth may stay on the ISS a while longer, Ripley is due to return to Earth soon, bringing with her valuable in-flight data from the trip to and back from the ISS on the new spacecraft. If tests show satisfactory results, humans can be flying to the ISS in the Crew Dragon as soon as later this year.