Yes, you read that correctly. We finally know who will be one of the astronauts on the first flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft. While you might be mistaken for thinking the next NASA astronaut would be a human, it’s actually none other than the iconic animated character, Shaun the Sheep.
How bloody wholesome is that?
Shaun’s assignment was announced by ESA’s director for human and robotic exploration Dr David Parker who said that it rounds off the first phase for the latest members of the astronaut corps.
“This is an exciting time for Shaun and for us at ESA. We’re woolly very happy that he’s been selected for the mission and we understand that, although it might be a small step for a human, it’s a giant leap for lambkind,” added Parker.
Shaun the Sheep’s official Twitter (pretty iconic that he has his own social media) hinted at the NASA and ESA collaboration late last month. Check out the wholesome teaser video below.
From Mossy Bottom Farm to the Moon and beyond…Shaun is getting ready to go on a journey like no other! Watch this space for an exciting announcement coming very soon…#ForwardToTheMoon pic.twitter.com/h8bq5zRTm1— Shaun the Sheep (@shaunthesheep) July 29, 2022
As mentioned, the Artemis I mission will be the first flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft which is planned to go around the Moon and head back to Earth.
This mission is extra special because it’s not carrying a human crew but rather is controlled from the ground with the “woolly specialist” as the passenger.
Although the release didn’t mention it specifically, Snoopy is also supposed to be on NASA’s Orion spacecraft too. Will Shaun and Snoopy become space besties?
The Orion, with its ESA European Service Module, will be launched by the Space Launch System from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
According to the ESA, once launched, the spacecraft will enter a low-Earth orbit before its upper stage fires it into a translunar orbit. It will then perform a flyby of the Moon, using lunar gravity to gain speed and propel itself 70,000 km beyond the Moon.
The spacecraft will be almost half a million kilometres away from Earth which is farther than any human, or sheep for that matter, has ever travelled before.
Shaun the Sheep’s NASA lunar journey is probably one of the cutest space-related things I’ve ever seen. What’s even cuter, however, is that to prepare for the flight, Shaun has undertaken astronaut training to help get used to the Orion spacecraft and being casually yeeted into space.
The training program and “European Service Module familiarisation” actually started back in 2020, when Shaun travelled around to various locations across both Europe and the U.S. to observe different parts of the mission.
The best part of all this is that the entire training process was documented so we can follow along with Shaun when ESA present it as a series of blog posts in the lead-up to the launch.
According to the ESA, Shaun the Sheep even took a flight on the special Airbus ‘Zero G’ A310 aircraft during its parabolic flights that recreate the ‘weightless’ conditions similar to what’s experienced in space.
To make things even better, 2022 is the 15th anniversary of Shaun’s first TV series. Lucy Wendover, marketing director at Aardman said there’s no “better way to celebrate than by travelling farther than any sheep has gone before”. And we agree. Good luck, Shaun.