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Space Station's '42' crew highlights link to 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'

The official crew poster for the International Space Station's 42nd expedition spoofs "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." (NASA)
Sept. 24, 2014

— What do astronauts and cosmonauts, a towel and a paranoid android have in common?

The answer is 42.

The International Space Station's Expedition 42 crew, who is set to take up residency onboard the orbiting laboratory in November, has embraced the connection between their numerical designation and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," the Douglas Adams' sci-fi franchise, adopting its imagery and slogans for their official poster and unofficial patch.

"I was super excited when I was assigned to an [space station] expedition, mostly because I was assigned to an ISS expedition, of course, but part of the excitement was that it was 42," Samantha Cristoforetti, a European Space Agency astronaut, said in a recent press briefing. "I am a big science fiction fan and one of the things I really love is this 'trilogy in five parts' that some of you might know."

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is the first of five comedic science fiction books penned by Adams, as well as the title of the book within the novels. Adapted from a British radio series in the 1970s, the "Hitchhiker's Guide" was made into an American feature film in 2005 starring Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell and Zooey Deschanel.

Movie poster for the Touchstone Pictures' 2005 feature film, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." (Touchstone Pictures)

The story follows Arthur Dent as he narrowly escapes the destruction of the Earth and, with his friend Ford Prefect, explores the galaxy in search of a decent cup of tea and the meaning of everything.

"In this book, it is kind of funny but '42' is the 'Answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything,'" Cristoforetti said. "Now, nobody knows what the question is, but 42 is the answer."

Don't leave Earth without it

Following a trend that began during the now-retired shuttle program, the Expedition 42 crew — Cristoforetti, together with commander Butch Wilmore and flight engineers Terry Virts, Alexander Samokutyayev, Elena Serova and Anton Shkaplerov — selected a movie poster to parody for their official crew poster.

"I am incredibly excited to share with you the Expedition 42 poster!" Cristoforetti wrote Tuesday (Sept. 23) with the online reveal of the poster. "If you like it half as much as I do, it will still be your favorite expedition poster ever."

The "Expedition 42's Guide to the Galaxy" crew poster. (NASA)

Closely mimicking one of the movie posters for the 2005 "Hitchhiker's Guide" film, the Expedition 42 poster "stars" Cristoforetti as Trillian, Wilmore as Arthur Dent, Serova as Ford Prefect, Samokutyayev as Humma Kavula and Virts and Shkaplerov as the two-headed Zaphod Beeblebrox.

The space station's Robonaut 2 guest stars as Marvin the Paranoid Android.

According to Cristoforetti, the poster was designed by a NASA artist, though the costumes and props — including the "Point Of View gun" being held by the Italian astronaut — were real and "not photoshopped."

"Thanks to the [movie's] production company and to the Douglas Adams family for allowing us to do this!" stated Cristoforetti. "Enjoy, don't panic and always know where your towel is!"

Don't Panic

The "Expedition 42's Guide to the Galaxy" official poster is not the crew's only "Hitchhiker's" reference. Cristoforetti also had small embroidered tags made up with the words, "Don't Panic."

"'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' is the title of the book but it is also a book in the novel that everyone carries with them," she described. "It has these big words written on the cover, which is 'Don't Panic.'"

Expedition 42 flight engineer Samantha Cristoforetti holds out her thumb, mimicking the hand on her 'Don't Panic' patch. (NASA TV)

The patches, which also include the number 42, feature a familiar icon.

"And so we had this little patch made, which has a little hitchhiking hand," she said.

Cristoforetti, Virts and Shkaplerov will 'hitchhike' their way to the space station on Russia's Soyuz TMA-15M, which is scheduled to launch on Nov. 23. Wilmore, Serova and Samokutyayev, who will first join the Expedition 41 crew, leave the Earth for the orbital outpost on Soyuz TMA-14M on Thursday (Sept. 25) at 4:25 p.m. EDT (2025 GMT).

Download the Expedition 42 crew poster: Hi-Res | Lo-Res

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