The “turtle-takeover” of space has started. A SpaceX Crew-3 astronaut, Kayla Barron, released a shimmering sea turtle to float over her head shortly after entering Earth orbit on Wednesday (Nov. 10). The “zero-g indication,” a doll used to indicate that she and her three crewmates were in space’s weightless environment, also hinted that “The Turtles” had arrived.
Both Barron and her Crew-3 commander, Raja Chari, are “Turtles,” or members of NASA’s 22nd class of astronauts chosen in 2017.
Following a long-standing tradition, the nickname was chosen by the preceding astronaut class as a good-natured jab that the 12 then-new recruits were a bit green around the collar, a little shell-shocked at being selected, and faced having their new homes submerged underwater just as they arrived at the Johnson Space Center in Houston due to the effects of a hurricane at the time.
Barron and Chari were pleased to fly their Turtle “flag” as the first members of their class to launch into space. “We have some decorations to bring with us,” Chari said earlier this year, likely referring to the still-secret zero-g indication.
During transmission from the Crew Dragon Endurance, Barron revealed her and her crewmates’ zero-g indicator: ‘Pfau,’ which is German for ‘peacock.’ Pfau was chosen as our zero-g indication because Raj and I are both from the class named “We’re the Turtles, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to represent our class in space. Tom is a ‘Peacock,’ so we chose a peacock turtle to get everyone on board. You’ll note she’s peacock colored, and we named her Pfau, which is German for peacock. “Barron said NASA’s 19th astronaut class was dubbed “The Peacocks” after they were chosen in 2004. The language choice is an homage to Crew-3’s fourth member, ESA’s Matthias Maurer.
The plush sea turtle seemed to be Aurora World’s “Emerald Tara Turtle,” an 11-inch-long doll from their “Sea Sparkles” collection. The softshell of the toy is lined with sequins that change color from green to silver when turned around.
Within minutes of Barron displaying the doll in space, the beauty was sold out online. Aurora World’s web page describing the plush turtle was withdrawn from its inventory, confirming the identification. A toy with rainbow sequins rather than green sold out as well.
The public’s fascination with the Crew-3 zero-g indicator continues a trend that began with SpaceX’s maiden launch of a Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station in 2019. The Demo-1 mission had no people, but it did launch a plush planet Earth. Celestial Buddies, the doll’s manufacturer, was flooded with orders overnight.
Similarly, “Tremor,” a sequined Apatosaurus dinosaur doll created by Ty, flew aboard SpaceX’s first trip to take and come back humans from the space station.
Other zero-g indications have included a toy replica of Star Wars’ “Grogu” (“Baby Yoda”), a Jellycat “My First Penguin” christened “GuinGuin” by its crew, and a Gund-made spacesuit-clad puppy modeled by the facility canines at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Each time the hospital’s gift store restocks them, the latter sells out again.
The history of flying zero-g indicators was inherited from the Russian space program and the world’s first person in space. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin took a little toy with him on his Vostok 1 flight. Later, cosmonauts launched with plush animals, typically chosen by their children, and hung them from spaceship control panels.