European Space Agency unveils Shaun the Sheep as astronaut for first moon mission

  • 03/08/2022
Shaun the Sheep... err Astronaut
The "specially trained woolly astronaut" will travel further from Earth than any human. Photo credit: Supplied / Aardman / ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) has named an astronaut with a difference for the first Artemis I mission to the Moon.

The "specially trained woolly astronaut" Shaun the Sheep has been assigned a seat on the flight, said ESA's director for human and robotic exploration, Dr David Parker.

"This is an exciting time for Shaun and for us at ESA. We're woolly very happy that he's been selected for the mission and we understand that, although it might be a small step for a human, it's a giant leap for lambkind.

"Shaun's mission assignment rounds off the first phase for the latest members of our astronaut corps," Parker said.

Italian ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is currently on the International Space Station (ISS) on her second spaceflight, while Danish ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen has been named for his second flight. More astronauts will be named later this year.

Shaun will be flying on the Artemis I mission, which will be the first flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft with an ESA European Service Module, planned to go around the Moon and back.

It's the first step for the space agency's return to the moon, with the goal to set up a permanent base which can then be used to further help reach Mars.

This mission is not carrying a human crew but will instead be controlled from the ground with its "woolly specialist" as a passenger.

In a light-hearted press release, the ESA said the beloved Aardman character began a programme of astronaut training and familiarisation with the Orion spacecraft and its European Service Module in 2020, travelling to various locations across Europe and the USA to see different aspects of the mission.

The adventures of Shaun during his training was documented and will be presented in a series of ESA blog posts leading up to launch, the agency announced.

Shaun has already experienced zero gravity conditions, thanks to the Airbus A310 aircraft.

The A310's parabolic flights can recreate the weightless conditions astronauts face in space and have been used in movies looking to recreate that for the big screen.

That included the sheep's role as a space traveller onboard a UFO in A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, the ESA said.

With a keen passion for exploring, Shaun took flight on the special Airbus 'Zero G' A310 aircraft during one of its parabolic flights that recreates the ‘weightless' conditions similar to those experienced in space.

"It offered insight into the rigorous training that all astronauts undertake to prepare for spaceflight, which he will now experience for real," the agency said.

Orion and its European Service Module will be launched by the Space Launch System from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will enter into a low-Earth orbit before the upper stage is fired into a translunar orbit.

The spacecraft will perform a flyby of the Moon, using lunar gravity to gain speed and propel itself 70,000km beyond the Moon, almost 500,000km from Earth.

"Farther than any human, or sheep, has ever travelled," as the ESA noted.

Lucy Wendover, marketing director at Aardman, said the company was excited to be joining the agency in making history by launching the first 'sheep' into space.

"As one of the first astronauts to fly an Artemis mission, Shaun is leading the way in lunar exploration, a great honour for our woolly adventurer," she said.