“My hope was to select an item that would capture the attention of both children and adults,” Feustel said when he first announced that he would be taken the beloved character with him in March, according to press reports at the time. The puppet version of Krtek was custom made for the voyage, as it is lighter and flatter than fully stuffed versions. Feustel’s mother-in-law is from Znojmo, South Moravia.
The cartoon mole, who is popular in much of the world but little known in the US, is not the only pop culture connection for the mission. It was also Feustel’s idea to create a mission poster based on the most recent Star Trek movie. Feustel told the media that the film “Star Trek” was uplinked to the Atlantis in 2009, when he was a crewmember on that mission.
Krtek previously flew on a rocket in a 1965 cartoon
Krtek will be on board as the six-member Endeavour crew undertakes four space walks to do maintenance and install new components. The crew will also deliver the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS) to the International Space Station. “AMS, a particle physics detector, is designed to search for various types of unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays. Its experiments are designed to help researchers study the formation of the universe and search for evidence of dark matter, strange matter and antimatter,” NASA said in a press release.
Endeavour also will deliver the Expedite the Processing of Experiment to Space Station (Express) Logistics Carrier 3 (ELC-3), a platform with spare parts that will sustain space station operations once the shuttles are retired from service, NASA added.
The 16-day mission was originally scheduled to begin April 19 but was delayed several times due to technical problems including a faulty heater that needed extensive repairs. Some 45,000 people had VIP tickets to watch the May 16 launch and a crowd estimated between 350,000 and 500,000 filled into surrounding areas, according to the Associated Press. Astronaut Michael Collins, who was part of the Apollo 11 mission, was among the guests. ‘It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore.’
The mission commander is Mark Kelly, the husband of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded by a gunman at a public event in Arizona on Jan. 8, 2011. She has made a remarkable recovery and was able to watch the liftoff but was not visible to the press.
“It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore. We must not stop,” Kelly said just before liftoff, according to an AP report.
Endeavour had 24 previous missions, and traveled some 116 million miles, circling the earth 4,500 times. Its 25th flight is its last; once Endeavor lands on June 1 it will be taken to be displayed in a museum in Los Angeles, California. Endeavour, the replacement for the Challenger, flew its first voyage on May 7, 1992.
“Endeavour is named for the first ship commanded by James Cook, the 18th century British explorer, navigator and astronomer. Cook’s voyage on the Endeavour established the usefulness of sending scientists on voyages of exploration,” NASA said. A flight by Atlantis, scheduled for July, will be the last space shuttle mission. After that, the US will have no vehicles in service capable of carrying people into space.