Giant leap for mole-kind as Czech cartoon character joins space shuttle crew

Krtek a raketa

A legendary Czech is going into space on a forthcoming shuttle flight. Although a veteran of such cosmic adventures, as well as many others, this crew member might raise some eyebrows ― he’s the world recognised cartoon character, the mole, sometimes known as the little Mole or Krteček. We look at a giant step for mole-kind.

That cartoon film Mole and the Rocket dating back to 1965. In that golden age of space exploration the cartoon creation of Czech Zdeněk Miler left his beloved earth on a solo flight. Almost half a century later, the cute comic character known to millions of adults and children around the world will be launched into space again.

The little mole has been chosen as a mascot for a forthcoming flight of the NASA shuttle Endeavour to the international space station. Mole’s participation was the brainchild of shuttle crew member Drew Feustal who is familiar with the fury comic icon thanks to his indirect Czech roots. His wife’s mother comes from the south Moravian town of Znojmo and his wife was of course the proud owner of those children’s books featuring the mole.

Drew Feustel,  photo: CT24
The importance of the mole to Czechs was recently underlined by Kateřina Tučková the curator of an exhibition in Prague tracing his past to mark the 90th birthday of his creator.

“Truly many generations grew up with the Mole and his stories. For us, Mr Miler is a Czech ‘Walt Disney’; that’s how important he is for us as a nation.”

The astronaut Drew Feustal already took poetry by the Czech Jan Neruda, notably his Cosmic Songs, into space on a previous shuttle mission in 2009.

Of course, there is some pedigree for this. The Czech flag was already carried on an Apollo space mission in 1972 by an astronaut with Czech-Slovak roots. And there was the first Czech in space, Vladimír Remek, taking a ride on the Soviet space programme in 1978.

The toy mole’s mission should blast off on April 19 with the shuttle taking vital equipment to the international space station orbiting the Earth. He and the rest of the crew will spend two weeks in space.

Once back on the ground, NASA has a further, longer term, mission for the mole — it wants to use the mole’s worldwide popularity to get children interested in science and space. Czech authorities will also be plugging into this project.