Outside of Earth's 'shell,' SpaceX's Crew-3 reveal turtle as zero-g indicator

Kayla Barron, Crew-3 astronaut, is seen floating above the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft "Endurance" with a sequined sea turtle. The doll was used as a "zero-g indicator" for the mission and signaled that "The Turtles" were on their way.
The "turtle-takeover of outer space" has begun.

SpaceX Crew-3 astronaut Kayla Baron released a sparkling sea Turtle to float over her head just moments after she entered Earth orbit on Wednesday, November 10. The "zero-g indicator", a doll that was used to indicate that her and her crewmates were in space microgravity, was also a sign that "The Turtles" were here.

Barron stated that "we do have a few items in store...for representing our class in Space" in a preflight interview with collectSPACE.com. "We are very excited about the Turtle-takeover at the space station."

Raja Chari, Barron's Crew-3 commander, is also a "Turtle", or member of NASA's 22nd astronaut class. The nickname was selected by the previous astronaut class to reflect the fact that the 12 new recruits were still a little green around the collar and a bit shell-shocked at their selection. They also faced the possibility of having their homes submerged in the midst of Hurricane Harvey.

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Raja Chari, SpaceX Crew-3 Commander, and Kayla Barron (mission specialist) are the first members of NASA’s 22nd class astronauts to fly into space. SpaceX, Image credit

Barron and Chari, the first members in their class, were proud to fly their Turtle "flag".

Chari said earlier this year that she had some decorations to bring along, possibly in reference to the secret zero-g indicator. "Definitely some references turtles that we'll see once we get up."

Update: Barron introduced Barron and her crewmates zero g indicator during a downlink to the Crew Dragon "Endurance". Pfau was chosen as our zero-g indicator. Raj and I both belong to the class "The Turtles" and we are excited to represent them in space. Barron said that Tom [Marshburn] was a "Peacock," so we chose a peacock turtle to bring everyone aboard -- you'll see she's peacock-colored -- and named her Pfau which is German for peacock. The 19th class of astronauts selected by NASA in 2004 was called "The Peacocks". Crew-3's fourth member Matthias Maurer, of the European Space Agency, is why German was chosen.

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Aurora World's "Sea Sparkles", a line of dolls measuring 11 inches (28 cm) in length, produced the plush sea turtle. The soft shell of the toy is lined with sequins, which when reversed can change its color from green to blue.

Within minutes of Barron placing the doll in space, the doll was quickly sold online. The Aurora World web page that described the turtle as a plush turtle was taken down from its catalog, presumably to confirm the identification. Similar toys with rainbow sequins were also available.

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Aurora World's Emerald Tara Turtle, an 11-inch (28 cm) doll, seems to be identical to the Crew-3 astronauts zero-g indicator. (Image credit: Aurora World)

The interest of the public in the Crew-3 zero g indicator continues a trend begun with SpaceX’s 2019 first Crew Dragon spacecraft flight to the International Space Station. Although there were no astronauts aboard the Demo-1 mission, it launched a plush planet Earth. Celestial Buddies was overwhelmed with orders over the overnight.

Ty flew "Tremor," an Apatosaurus dinosaur doll dressed in sequins, on SpaceX's first mission to transport astronauts to the station. Other zero-g indicators include a toy Star Wars' "Grogu", ("Baby Yoda"), and a Jellycat named "My First Penguin" by its crew. There is also a Gund-made spacesuit-clad puppy, which was modeled after St. Jude Children's Research Hospital's facility dog. These items continue to sell out every time they are restocked by the hospital's gift store.

The Russian space program borrowed the tradition of flying zero-g indicator aircraft from the first human to fly into space. Yuri Gagarin carried a doll on his Vostok-1 mission in 1961. Later, cosmonauts launched with small toys, often chosen by their children, and hung them from the control panels of their spacecraft.

The patch that NASA's 22nd class astronauts chose in 2017 features a nod towards the group's nickname "The Turtles". NASA image credit

Although Crew-3 astronauts Barron and Chari were not aware of this, they also included Matthias Maurer from the European Space Agency (ESA) and Tom Marshburn, NASA astronaut. However, "turtles” also has a different connotation in U.S. history. Walter "Wally" Schirra, Mercury astronaut, was challenged about his membership in The Ancient Order of Turtles (a drinking club that originated among World War II pilots).

"Hey Wally, are your turtles?" Minutes into his 1962 Sigma 7 mission, Mission Control called Schirra. According to the Order's rules, Schirra was required to reply "You bet my sweet ass I am!" Or be made to buy drinks for all those within earshot. Schirra was unable to give the color response over open air so he recorded it and played it back from the ground.

However, at least one member of "The Turtles" recognized the connection.

"You can bet your sweet astronauts they are!" Zena Cardman tweeted in response to a tweet about her classmates' zero g indicator.

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