Over the years, we've reported on a seemingly endless list of important objects — from a $23 million toilet to equipment for zero gravity organ-growing experiments — being launched up to the International Space Station (ISS).
This weekend social media feeds were lit up by the discovery that one of SpaceX's historic Demo-1 mission astronauts had boarded with a special cargo: a Baby Yoda toy.
It turns out the Star Wars critter is one of a long list of arguably just-as-important toy companions to make it to space — because astronauts need a bit of playtime too. Here are some of our favorite toys to have stationed aboard the ISS.
1. Baby Yoda aboard the ISS
Baby Yoda, the cute sidekick from the Star Wars series The Mandalorian, joined NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, and Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi on Sunday night as they made their way to the ISS after the launch of SpaceX's Crew-1 mission.
"Baby Yoda says you guys can come back on board," astronaut Glover told SpaceX mission control shortly after launch, to inform them that they could turn the cameras back on inside the spacecraft.
2. The SpaceX Demo-2 dino plush
As both the astronauts have kids who are big dinosaur fans, they picked Tremor, a sparkly Apatosaurus, to take on their mission. Tremor became an overnight internet sensation and quickly sold out after subsequently being listed on SpaceX's website.
3. A 'super high-tech zero-G indicator'
A cuddly toy planet called 'Earthy' was blasted into space on a cargo test mission aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon in 2019, a precursor to the recent astronaut missions.
As no humans were allowed aboard the Crew Dragon at the time 'Earthy' might be able to claim the title of the first toy passenger to fly a SpaceX rocket.
At the time, Elon Musk pointed out in a Twitter post, a "super high tech zero g indicator [was] added just before launch!"
4. Buzz lightyear achieves his lifelong dream
In the famous Pixar Toy Story movies, it was always Buzz Lightyear's dream to make it to space. Well, he finally reached that goal in 2008 when a toy Buzz Lightyear was sent to the ISS.
The toy was launched aboard the Discovery Space Shuttle two times and spent a total of 15 months on the ISS. After returning to Earth, Buzz was put on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, US, where he still resides, reminiscing over his glory days no doubt.
5. Angry Birds in microgravity
When developer Rovio released Angry Birds Space back in 2012, NASA astronaut Don Pettit brought a plush toy version of Red Bird with him to the ISS as an aid for explaining microgravity in an educational video.
Unfortunately, the green pig toy didn't make it, so Pettit had to make do with a crudely drawn version on a green balloon.
6. Velcro chess in space
In 2008, NASA astronaut and Expedition 17 flight engineer, took a Velcro chessboard up to the ISS and played a hard-fought chess match against an elementary school chess team.
As per NASA, a move was played about once every two days, with the school chess team using an online system to let their members vote for a move online. Who won? The school chess team (representing Earth) took the victory after Chamitoff resigned when Earth turned its pawn into a queen.
7. A Lego ISS model completed aboard the ISS
Satoshi Furukawa completed a Lego scale model of the International Space Station while he was stationed at the ISS in November 2011.
As NASA points out, the building of the ISS scale model aboard the ISS was assembled not just as a pastime, but also to demonstrate scientific concepts. That might be one of the most meta things we've ever heard.
8. Smokey bear spreads his wisdom
Smokey Bear, a symbol for wildland fire prevention, was launched aboard a Soyuz spacecraft with NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin in 2012.
Images of wildfires, such as this one, from the ISS are a timely reminder of the importance of fire prevention.
As NASA says, Smokey's "presence on the orbiting complex highlights the many areas of active space station research related to Earth observations, plant growth, and combustion and materials sciences."
9. A microgravity yo-yo
In the picture above, astronaut Peggy Whitson is shown demonstrating how yo-yos work in microgravity in 2002 — pretty well it turns out.
10. A made-in-space dino toy
This toy is somewhat of an outlier on this list, but for a brilliant reason.
In 2013, astronaut Karen Nyberg (who happens to be married to Doug Hurley) sewed a toy dinosaur for her son Jack while she was stationed on the ISS. That makes it the only toy on this list that wasn't actually launched from Earth.
The toy dino was made out of an assortment of materials on the ISS, including velcro-like fabric that lines the Russian food containers and scraps from a used t-shirt as the stuffing, Nyberg told NASA. We have to admit we're pretty jealous of Jack Hurley.
11. Epic solo space baseball
It could be a question in a general knowledge quiz that almost no one would know the answer for: where is the only place that someone can be the pitcher, batsman, and outfield player all in the same play? The answer, of course, is the ISS.
We'll let the images do the talking here:
JAXA astronaut Satoshi Furukawa throws the ball.
He gets in position on the base.
He smashes it for a home run and, only a moment later, foils his own attempt by catching himself out.
It's heartening to see that some of the most accomplished scientists and astronauts out there also need a bit of downtime. If plush toys and sports gear help them let their hair down — microgravity permitting — then more power to them.