A stowaway aboard SpaceX's first mission to launch astronauts to the International Space Station may have set a new record — the most sequins to enter Earth orbit.
Formally revealed a few hours after Saturday's (May 30) launch, but spotted mere seconds after NASA crew members Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley began to circle the planet on SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, the sparkly third passenger sent "tremors" across social media.
"We did end up with one stowaway on board our vehicle when we launched today. It was not just Doug and I who accomplished the launch here," said Behnken, addressing the reported sighting of a blue and pink creature on the ship. "We do have an Apatosaurus aboard."
A long-necked, four-legged dinosaur that walked the Earth during the late Jurassic period 150 million years ago, the Apatosaurus had now achieved spaceflight.
Or at least a sequin-covered doll of the sauropod had, as one was now floating on board the commercial space capsule.
"We both have two boys who are super interested in dinosaurs," said Behnken. "We collected up all the dinosaurs between our two houses and 'Tremor,' the Apatosaurus, got the vote from the boys to make the trip into space today with us."
Made by Ty, the same company that made Beanie Babies, Tremor was one of the first dolls introduced in 2018 as part of the Flippables line. Tremor is covered in hundreds of small, dual-color sequins. Flip the sequins to one side and the dino turns a sparkly light blue. Flip them the other way and the Apatosaurus takes on a shiny shade of pink.
Although Ty probably did not have spaceflight in mind when creating the toy doll, Tremor made for a very visual "zero-g indicator." At the point that the Demo-2 mission's Crew Dragon (named "Endeavour") reached orbit, the dinosaur began to float. A video camera aboard the capsule caught the scene as Behnken gave Tremor a nudge and sent it tumbling across the cabin (the doll was tethered to the empty seat next to Behnken's to keep it from going too far).
Zero-g indicators are a tradition that date back to the first person to fly into space, Soviet-era cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who launched with a small doll on board his Vostok spacecraft in 1961. In the decades since, Russians and international crew members launching on Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan have often flown small toys to serve as a visual cue for microgravity, a good luck talisman and a treat for their children.
Behnken and Hurley are each married to fellow astronauts. Behnken and Megan McArthur have a 6-year-old son, Theodore (Theo), and Hurley and Karen Nyberg have a 10-year-old son, Jack.
When Nyberg last flew in space in 2013, she made for Jack a stuffed dinosaur out of scraps of fabric that she found around the space station. Now it was Jack's and Theo's turn to send their Apatosaurus into space.
"That was super cool thing for us to get a chance to do for both of our sons, who I hope were super excited to see their toy floating around on board," said Behnken. "I am sure they would rather be here, given the opportunity, but hopefully they are proud of this as well."
- Tour SpaceX's Crew Dragon in orbit with the Demo-2 astronauts (video)
- In photos: SpaceX's historic Demo-2 test flight with astronauts
- How SpaceX's Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission works in 13 steps
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.