During times of great stress, many of us like to lean on precious items of great sentimental value such as a childhood blanket or stuffed teddy bear. You might therefore quite sensibly assume that the sequinned plushie spotted onboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule was there as a sort of therapy dinosaur to keep the under-pressure astronauts in high spirits. As it turns out, the fabulously technicolor toy actually played a far more important role in the monitoring of the take off’s timeline.
The precious cargo was launched into space on Saturday alongside the two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Speeding away from Earth (a few days late), the Falcon 9 rocket marked the first time a commercial spacecraft has launched humans to space as well as the first time in nine years that astronauts have launched to the ISS from the United States, But one of the more exciting firsts for those of a magpie’s disposition was that this was the first time humans have launched a sequinned dinosaur into space (though it's not the first dino in space), and with good reason.
There’s a tradition onboard such missions of bringing plushies, cleverly code-named “zero-gravity indicators,” along for the ride. They're useful because once the toy begins to float it alerts the astronauts that the rocket is now successfully in microgravity. This doesn't mean that the rocket has escaped Earth’s gravitational pull. Microgravity (when things start floating around) is due to the effect of the rocket constantly falling down towards Earth but moving so fast that it misses our planet. During the groundbreaking and rescheduled SpaceX launch on Saturday, it was about 10 minutes after launch before our sequined scientist made an appearance, spotted drifting towards Behnken before he pushed it aside.
"Looks like we saw our zero-G indicator floating around there," a NASA commentator said during the live coverage of the launch as the dinosaur appeared roughly 10 minutes after take off. "I know Bob and Doug owe us a little bit about what exactly that is that they brought up with them." The dinosaur was later seen drifting into view while Behnken and Hurley got to work securing the hatch.
The first teaser trailer of the precious cargo came during preparations last Wednesday as the dinosaur was spotted sitting comfortably in one of the rocket’s seats.
The dazzling companion found its way onboard after fathers Behnken and Hurley asked their sons to gather a collection of their favorite toys. Each are keen dinosaur fans and in the end Tremor, the jazzy apatosaurus in question, was selected from the palaeontological line up to join the mission. The decorative dinosaur, now a long way from home, joins a team of highly-covetable mascots that have been flung into space in the name of science.
A plushie Earth nicknamed "Earthy" rocketed in popularity after catching a ride on the Crew Dragon's inaugural uncrewed test flight to the ISS last year. Back on Earth the same stuffed planet sold out in stores meanwhile on the ISS, it was such a hit it's since stayed onboard featuring in many delightful photos of day-to-day life onboard the space station.