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To the museum and beyond! Space-flown Buzz Lightyear toy is Smithsonian-bound

A 12-inch Buzz Lightyear toy figure, seen here floating aboard the space station, will be donated to the Smithsonian. (NASA)
March 19, 2012

— The final chapter in a Buzz Lightyear toy's story will play out later this month at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

On March 29, a 12-inch (30.5-centimeter) action figure of the space ranger made famous in the Disney-Pixar "Toy Story" franchise will be donated to the national aerospace archive. The "not a flying toy" figure was earlier flown to the real International Space Station (ISS), where it stayed for 467 days orbiting the Earth.

"Be here when Buzz Lightyear arrives," the National Air and Space Museum recently invited on its website. "The museum will host a presentation with Pixar and NASA for a ceremonial donation of the Buzz Lightyear action figure that flew on space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station."

The Buzz Lightyear toy figure rode to space and back on shuttle Discovery; now both are bound for the Smithsonian. (NASA)

The museum, which only a few weeks later on April 19 will take delivery of Lightyear's ride to space, Discovery, to be displayed at its Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia, plans to exhibit the well-traveled astronaut toy as part of its shuttle-themed "Moving Beyond Earth" gallery later this year.

John Lasseter, the animator who created Buzz Lightyear and who is now the chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, will attend the ceremony, along with representatives from NASA and the Smithsonian.

A dream come true

Buzz Lightyear's arrival at the Smithsonian will complete a vision for the toy that Lasseter expressed while the figure was still in space.

"Frankly, I would love it to go to the Smithsonian so that kids can actually see this Buzz went to space," Lasseter told collectSPACE in a 2009 interview.

Space shuttle Discovery delivered Lightyear to the space station in June 2008 as part of an educational partnership between NASA and the Walt Disney Company. In addition to launching the toy to space, the collaboration included a mission patch design contest for students and a series of educational online games and videos, the latter featuring footage of the figure floating in space.

Disney celebrated the space ranger's real space adventure at its amusement parks, too. During festivities held at the Disneyland Resort in California in June 2008, the figure's flight footage debuted before an audience of park visitors.

More than a year later, Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Florida threw a ticker-tape parade to welcome the space flown Lightyear back to Earth. The parade featured NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, who was on the space station with the Lightyear toy, and Apollo moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, the character's namesake.

Apollo moonwalker Buzz Aldrin poses with the space-flown Buzz Lightyear at Disney World, Florida, in 2009. (collectSPACE)

For Lasseter, the Buzz Lightyear figure's entire journey, from the space station to Main Street to the Smithsonian, has been the a dream come true.

"It is a character I created and for us at Pixar to have him go, there are so many times I've said, 'It is a dream come true,' but this one truly, truly is," Lasseter said.

At home in the Smithsonian

Had Buzz Lightyear been a real astronaut, his 467 days in space would have set the record for the most time in orbit by an American space traveller, an accomplishment more than worthy for celebration in the National Air and Space Museum.

But even if "just a toy" — as a memorable line from "Toy Story" emphasized — Buzz Lightyear still fits well in the museum. Among other cultural and social artifacts, the Smithsonian's space collection includes Magellan T. Bear, the "first official teddy bear in space," which launched on an earlier mission on space shuttle Discovery.

Lightyear's look also blends among other artifacts in the National Air and Space Museum, especially the spacesuit worn by the "other" Buzz, Aldrin.

"A big part of his design was based on how the Apollo astronauts looked," Lasseter said in 2009. "That's why he is primarily white and he has that big, clear helmet and he has a skullcap; it's very much based upon the real NASA astronauts."

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