|October 2, 2009
— A well-traveled, twelve-inch Buzz Lightyear action figure received a homecoming on Friday worthy of any full-size astronaut who returned after more than a year spent onboard the International Space Station (ISS).
Disney Parks and NASA came together at Disney World in Florida to celebrate Buzz Lightyear's landing with the launch of a contest for kids to design the "Toy Story" astronaut's mission patch and debut a new online game as part of the "Space Ranger Education Series" on the space agency's website.
NASA also used today to announce a competition for students to develop science experiments to be conducted onboard the station.
The celebration culminated this afternoon with a marching band-led ticker-tape parade down the Magic Kingdom's Main Street USA featuring the flown Buzz Lightyear, his namesake, moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, and astronaut Mike Fincke, who was on the station for six of the 15 months that the toy Lightyear was there.
"It was so amazing," Fincke told collectSPACE after the parade. "You could really see that the guests here at the Magic Kingdom were extremely excited and the kids were really excited. I thought it was good for NASA, good for Disney, and I was just proud to be part of it."
"Sitting next to Buzz [Lightyear], that was amazing! Beautiful cars and everybody was really excited and I felt like an American hero," he added.
A (toy) storied tradition
In fact, all the astronauts who flew before Lightyear since 1965 have had their own emblems.
Buzz Lightyear, on his own mission to star in educational videos for NASA outreach programs, had no patch.
To correct that oversight and to engage students, NASA has partnered with Disney Parks to hold a contest open to children in grades two through six to design an insignia that honors the country's first and longest-serving space ranger.
"Disney Parks and NASA feel it's only fitting that Buzz's biggest and true fans are given the opportunity to design a one-of-a-kind mission patch to celebrate his dream come true. We have no doubt the submissions will be unique and creative — if anything, a very hard decision to make!" said Disney's Duncan Wardle, Vice President for Creative, Inc.
Beginning today through Nov. 6, children and parents can go onto Disney Parks' website, download a template and design a custom Buzz mission patch. Kids can choose from designs and art inspired by previous NASA badges, as well as NASA and Disney creative elements and other add-ons.
Along with their patch design, children must also submit a 100-word or less essay discussing the inspiration for their emblem.
The winner and up to three family members will receive a four day, three night vacation at Walt Disney World, as well as a VIP tour of the Kennedy Space Center.
NASA also plans to reward the winner in a way only it can.
"It is a great honor to carry a patch with you to space," shared Fincke. "So, we're giving the opportunity for kids across the country to come up with a really neat patch and we will take the winning design, we will make several copies of it and fly them in space and return one copy to the designer."
"If you can imagine yourself as an eight or nine year old kid, I think that being part of the space program like that, that's pretty amazing," said Fincke.
Not just child's play
The game, titled "Putting It All Together", is the latest in the "Space Ranger Education Series" produced as part of the collaboration with Disney. In addition to the activities for students — in this case, players build the ISS using all of its modules — the series includes materials designed for teachers to integrate the games into their classrooms.
Meanwhile, the "Kids in Micro-g Experiment Challenge" takes the contest out of the computer and onto the real space station by encouraging fifth through eighth grade students to devise experiments to be conducted onboard the orbiting outpost.
Choosing from a common set of equipment available to the astronauts in space, including old clothes, food cans, condiment packages, and models of the Earth, moon and Mars, the students must devise science demonstrations that can be performed in 10 minutes or less.
"That's the gist of it — just take some materials on hand and discover something new. That's going to take a lot of creativity," Fincke described. "Just imagine what you can do with some ketchup and a floating water bubble and some diffusion timing experiments."
NASA will select a dozen winners whose experiments will be conducted on the station before the end of the school year and videotaped for the schools to watch.
"I think it is fantastic the fact that Buzz [Lightyear] was up there so long that we have great examples of how he was on the International Space Station. I think that will inspire students to think about our exploration, but also maybe have the opportunity to design an experiment," Joyce Winterton, Assistant Administrator for Education at NASA, told collectSPACE.
As NASA and Disney Parks premiered the new education initiatives, Walt Disney Studios debuted new 3D versions of Disney-Pixar's animated features "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" in theaters across the country, from which Buzz Lightyear originates.
"Disney has the attention of kids and NASA has a very similar kind of exciting mission, and so when our two organizations work together, it can only be amazing," said Fincke.
For more information, or to take part in the contests, see NASA's BUZZ on ISS and Disney Parks websites.
|Buzz Lightyear is back at Walt Disney World after flying aboard the space station for more than a year. (collectSPACE) Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Fincke take part in Disney's ticker-tape parade for Buzz Lightyear. (collectSPACE) Buzz Lightyear needs a mission patch. (Walt Disney Company) Buzz Lightyear floating aboard the space station. (NASA)