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European Space Agency recruits Shaun (the sheep) for Artemis 1 moon mission

Shaun, the title character from the Aardman stop-motion TV series



Shaun, the title character from the Aardman stop-motion TV series “Shaun the Sheep,” poses with a model of the Orion spacecraft and European service module. Shaun is flying in the Artemis 1 Official Flight Kit (OFK) on behalf of ESA (European Space Agency).
(Image credit: European Space Agency)

A popular stop-motion sheep is about to go from Mossy Bottom Farm to the moon.

Shaun, the title character from the animated television series “Shaun the Sheep,” has been assigned a space on NASA’s Artemis 1 mission, targeted for launch later this month. The unusually clever Shropshire lamb — in plush doll form — will fly well beyond the moon on NASA’s uncrewed Orion spacecraft prior to returning to Earth in a little over a month’s time.

Shaun’s inclusion in the Artemis 1 Official Flight Kit (opens in new tab) was arranged by the European Space Agency (ESA), which built the power-providing service module for the mission.

“This is an exciting time for Shaun and for us at ESA,” David Parker, director for human and robotic exploration at ESA, said in a statement (opens in new tab) released on Tuesday (Aug. 2). “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.”

 Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission: Live updates

ESA worked with Aardman, the animation studio behind the stop-motion sheep, to arrange for Shaun’s real-life space adventure.

“Aardman is excited to be joining ESA in making history by launching the first ‘sheep’ into space,” said Lucy Wendover, marketing director at Aardman. “As one of the first astronauts to fly on an Artemis mission (opens in new tab), Shaun is leading the way in lunar exploration, a great honor for our woolly adventurer!”

“2022 marks the 15th anniversary of Shaun’s first TV series, so what better way to celebrate than by traveling farther than any sheep has gone before,” she added.

A spinoff of another Aaarman production, “Wallace & Gromit,” Shaun (the sheep) first appeared in the 1995 short film “A Close Shave.” The TV series debuted in 2007 and has since been seen in 180 countries. Two feature length films followed, including 2019’s “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon,” in which Shaun meets a visitor from outer space.

“Although it might be a small step for a human, it’s a giant leap for lambkind,” said ESA’s David Parker of Shaun the sheep’s upcoming space trip. (Image credit: European Space Agency)

To prepare for that movie, Shaun (again, as a plush doll) flew with an ESA team on a parabolic aircraft flight that recreated the weightless conditions similar to those experienced in space.

“[The flight] offered insight into the rigorous training that all astronauts undertake to prepare for spaceflight, which he will now experience for real,” ESA described in the release announcing Shaun’s flight on the Artemis 1 mission.

Shaun has now undergone even more “training,” traveling to various facilities in Europe and the U.S. to “see” different aspects of the moon mission in preparation. His journey was documented and will be presented in a series of ESA blog posts (opens in new tab) leading up to the launch.

Artemis 1 will mark the first integrated test of Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, leading the way to crewed flights to the moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface as it establishes a sustainable presence on the moon.

Shaun is not the only pop culture figure launching on board the inaugural Artemis flight. Four LEGO minifigures (opens in new tab) are also included in the OFK, and a one-of-a-kind Snoopy doll (opens in new tab) based on the comic strip beagle is flying as the mission’s zero-gravity indicator.

 The story was first published on collectSPACE. Read the original story here (opens in new tab).

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Robert Z. Pearlman

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.

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