Krtek tours Czech Republic after return from space

Indira and Andrew Feustel, photo: CTK

The Czech cartoon character Krtek, or Little Mole, has been given a hero’s welcome back home after spending two weeks in space. The American astronaut Andrew Feustel, who took Krtek to space aboard the Endeavour space shuttle, arrived in Prague last week with his family, and is now touring the Czech Republic with Krtek to promote science and technology among young Czechs.

Andrew Feustel  (right),  his wife Indira  (left) and Zdeněk Miler. Photo: CTK
US Ambassador Norman Eisen welcomed Krtek together with astronaut Andrew Feustel and his family at Prague airport Friday. The Little Mole, created by animator Zdeněk Miler in the 1950s, spent two weeks in space in May on board the US Space Shuttle Endeavour. Andrew Feustel, who’s wife Indira has Czech roots, explained why Krtek was chosen for the mission.

“The reason Krtek was chosen was because he’s familiar to so many generations here in the Czech Republic, all over Europe and the whole world now. We hope that through his adventures in space, children and youth will become interested in math and science and technology, and will grow those educational experiences toward future careers in technology.”

Andrew Feustel,  photo: CTK
The Czech Academy of Sciences, which invited Andrew Feustel to Prague, awarded him a medal for propagating science and research, as the third American astronaut after John Blaha and Eugene Cernan, both of whom had a Czech connection, just Mr Feustel’s wife Indira, whose mother was born in Znojmo.

This was the second time Andrew Feustel took something or someone Czech with him to space. On his first mission, the astronaut had a book of poems entitled Cosmic Songs by the 19th century Czech writer Jan Neruda. But it seems Krtek’s company was more enjoyable.

“Krtek looked out of the window a lot, he got to brush his teeth, we fed him some food, and he also tried on a space suit.”

The astronaut in fact took two Little Moles with him to space, and he gave one of them to the character’s creator, Zdeněk Miler, when they met over the weekend. The other, bigger one is now busy helping Andrew Feustel in his new role as a co-chair of a new, US Embassy-sponsored project called Junior Ambassadors for Science and Technology, as Ambassador Norman Eisen pointed out.

Indira and Andrew Feustel,  photo: CTK
“This pilot programme is going to be targeted at Czech youth. We will do it in partnerships with Czech-American businesses to reach out to them at an early age and to get them to participate in science, and to show how fantastic a career in science and engineering can be.”

With the US space shuttle programme scrapped, however, they will have to wait some time before flying out to space, at least on American vessels. But Andrew Feustel is definitely optimistic about the future of the American space programme.

“We will continue to support the space station programme and missions to space with the Russians. Eventually, the United States will have additional rockets of our own, both through NASA and private industry. So we look forward to returning to the space station on our rockets and possibly flying beyond, to the Moon and eventually, some day I believe in our lifetime, to Mars.”