Nov. 21, 2014
— Do you want to launch a snowman?
That perhaps is the question — and paraphrased song line from the Disney film "Frozen" — that Anton Shkaplerov's daughter may have asked her cosmonaut father.
For when Shkaplerov and his crewmates, NASA astronaut Terry Virts and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, lift off for the International Space Station on Sunday afternoon (Nov. 23), they will have with them a small plush doll of the animated character "Olaf."
"It is going to be the snowman from 'Frozen,'" Shkaplerov told reporters at a pre-flight press conference in Star City, Russia. "My youngest daughter is eight years old and she selected that as a talisman."
More than just a charm or mascot, the doll, suspended from a cord in the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft, will serve as the flight's zero-g indicator. When the crew enters Earth orbit, Olaf will (to borrow another "Frozen" song line) "let it go" and float, signaling Shkaplerov, Virts, and Cristoforetti that they are in space.
The Soyuz rocket that will launch Anton Shkaplerov, Terry Virts, and Samantha Cristoforetti was rolled out and erected at the pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome Nov. 21. (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
"This guy will be flying with me, [Anton and Samantha]," Virts wrote on Twitter, sharing a photo of the small stuffed snowman.
The three crewmembers and their carrot nosed companion are scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sunday at 4:01 p.m. EST (2101 GMT or 3:01 a.m. local Kazakh time, Nov. 24). Six hours and four orbits of the Earth later, they are expected to arrive at the station, where Shkaplerov, Virts, and Cristoforetti will join the outpost's Expedition 42 crew before taking the lead for Expedition 43.
Olaf, and his TMA-15M crewmates, will return to Earth in mid-May 2015.
In Walt Disney Pictures' 2013 movie "Frozen," Olaf is the creation of sisters Anna and Elsa who magically comes to life. Actor Josh Gad voiced the humorous snowman, who dreams of experiencing summer.
Olaf isn't the first talisman and zero-g indicator. For years, Soyuz commanders have chosen a toy or doll to serve the purpose, often at the suggestion of their children. Nor is the snowman the first trademarked character to serve the purpose.
"Need to repair the arm first?" tweeted Samantha Cristoforetti in reply to Terry Virts sharing this photo of their talisman on Twitter.
Previous talisman have included a red Angry Bird from the popular Rovio game, which took flight to the space station in November 2011, and the U.S. Forest Service's Smokey Bear, which launched in May 2012.
Olaf is (at least) the second Disney character to visit the International Space Station.
In 2008, a 12-inch action figure of Pixar's animated space ranger Buzz Lightyear lifted off on NASA's space shuttle Discovery for the orbiting outpost as part of an educational partnership between the space agency and entertainment company. It returned to Earth the next year, and became part of the Smithsonian's collection at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.