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Stuffed cow guards China's space station ahead of Shenzhou 13 crew arrival next month

A stuffed cow is currently inhabiting China space station.
A stuffed cow is currently inhabiting China space station. (Image credit: CCTV)

There are no astronauts currently aboard China's new space station, but a stowaway on a recent cargo mission is now inhabiting the orbital outpost.

Cameras aboard the Tianzhou 3 cargo spacecraft show a stuffed toy cow tucked away among supplies and equipment. Tianzhou 3 docked with the Tianhe module, the core module of China's Tiangong space station, on Sept. 20 in preparation for the upcoming Shenzhou 13 crewed mission, which is currently scheduled to launch Oct. 16.

The cow was likely chosen due to this year being the Year of the Ox in the 12-year sequence of animals in the Chinese zodiac.

Related: The latest news about China's space program 

A stuffed cow strapped inside Chinese space cargo ship. (Image credit: CCTV)

The plushie is also strapped in, rather than being a "zero-g indicator," as seen on some American missions, that would begin to float when experiencing weightlessness, or microgravity.

And it is not the first to visit China's space station. Shenzhou 12 astronaut Liu Boming took a small plush cow to Tianhe and introduced it during a video tour. Liu took the cow back to Earth with him on Sept. 17.

By the time the next crewed mission, Shenzhou 14, launches around May 2022, it will be the Year of the Tiger, so expect a striped stuffed toy to be along for the mission.

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Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. He is based in Helsinki, Finland.