World-loved Aardman character Shaun the Sheep faces an all-new adventure after being named the first European Space Agency astronaut to participate in Nasa’s Artemis Moon program.
ESA announced Shaun’s enlistment in the astronaut corps on Monday morning, possibly less than 30 days after the launch of Artemis I, Nasa’s first test flight of the Space Launch System rocket and the US space agency’s Orion spacecraft.
“This is an exciting time for Shaun and for us at ESA,” ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said in a statement. “We are very fortunate that he was selected for the mission and we understand that while it may be one small step for a human being, it is one giant leap for a lamb.”
It won’t be Shaun’s first experience in space, as ESA notes that a space agency team oversaw the sheep’s role in the 2019 film A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon.
“It provided a glimpse of the rigorous training that all astronauts go through in preparation for spaceflight,” ESA announced in a statement, “that he’s about to experience for real.”
Artemis I consists of Nasa’s 322-foot-tall heavy-lift lunar rocket and the Orion spacecraft, which Nasa hopes will lift off as early as August 29 from Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center, with additional launch windows on August 2 and 5 September September. The mission will send Orion – and Shaun – on a loop around and beyond the moon before returning to Earth to splash into the ocean after 39 to 42 days in space, depending on the launch date when the mission actually lifts off.
“The spacecraft will perform a moon flyby, using the moon’s gravity to gain speed and move 70,000 km beyond the moon, nearly half a million kilometers from Earth,” and the ESA statement read: “Farther than any man or sheep has ever traveled.”
But Shaun won’t be flying alone in the Orion spacecraft. He becomes part of Nasa’s data acquisition “moonikins”, Arturo Campus, a data acquisition dummy named after an electrical engineer who helped bring Apollo 13 home in 1970, as well as Helga and Zohar.
Despite being humanoid mannequins, Shaun’s flight will still break new ground despite being accompanied on the journey.
“Lucy Wendover, Aardman’s Director of Marketing, says, ‘Aardman looks forward to making history alongside ESA by launching the first ‘sheep’ into space,” said Lucy Wendover, Aardman’s Director of Marketing, in a statement. “2022 marks the 15th anniversary of Shaun’s first TV series, so what better way to celebrate than by traveling further than any sheep has gone before.”