“Who’s a good little zero-g indicator? You are!” The Child becomes a piece of official astronavigation equipment aboard Crew-1, the first crewed orbital flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon.
On Sunday, November 15 at 7:27 p.m. EST, 00:27 UTC on November 16, SpaceX and NASA launched Dragon’s first operational crew mission (Crew-1) to the International Space Station (ISS) from historic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Following stage separation, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Dragon is expected to autonomously dock with the ISS at approximately 11:00 p.m. EST on Monday, November 16, 04:00 UTC on Tuesday, November 17.
As part of the Commercial Crew Program, NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi are flying aboard Dragon on its first six-month operational mission to the ISS.
But there’s another crewmember: it’s a small plush toy replica of The Child from Disney’s The Mandalorian, a character colloquialy known as Baby Yoda.
The Crew-1 astronauts selected a Baby Yoda toy to be their zero-gravity indicator. A zero-G indicator is a small object that signals when the crew has entered microgravity.
The Science of Baby Yoda
The zero-G indicator actually has a long and illustrious tradition in the history in aeronautics.
In the earliest days of aviation, before the invention of the attitude indicator (previously called either a gyro horizon or artificial horizon), pilots would bring a small dangling object to hang in the cockpit to give them a visual indication as to which direction was down. This was important because you couldn’t always tell which way was up just by looking out of the cockpit (even though the first cockpits weren’t even enclosed in glass and metal). It was Yuri Gagarin who employed the first “zero-G indicator” on the first manned space flight in history on April 12, 1961 when he brought aboard a child’s doll.
Astronauts usually choose a small item of personal significance to fill the zero-G indicator role. For their historic mission in May, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley let their young sons choose the zer0-G indicator, a small apatosaurus plushie named Tremor. Other missions have selected toy unicorns, toy puppies, and a plushie shaped like planet Earth.
Sometimes the simplest tech is the best tech.
Some advice for the Crew Dragon astronauts: keep him away from the frog eggs. He’ll eat anything.