Space events are everywhere. But even the more seasoned space enthusiast will not easily end up at a zoo. Yesterday Artis Amsterdam Zoo organized a live inflight call with ESA astronaut André Kuipers. As it happens, André Kuipers is a fan and  ambassador of the zoo. He even took the zoo mascotte ‘Artis de Marsis’ up into the ISS with him. To honor this good relationship between the zoo and ‘its’ astronaut, the zoo organized a live connection with ISS for zoo friends and local schools.

STEM and space outreach at a Zoo

Before the event, local primary schools could win a trip to the zoo to attend the inflight call by proposing questions to André Kuipers. So two winning school classes, lots of their parents and teachers, VIP members of the zoo, a bunch of space industry representatives and the mayor of Amsterdam all gathered at the entrance of the zoo on the afternoon of April 5th. Between the guests were also some of André Kuipers children, apparently big zoo fans.

Amsterdam zoo is not only home to many animals from all over the world, it also has a beautiful planetarium. At 16:00 the doors were opened for the invitees. Local TV and press rushed in to interview the schoolkids in their self-made astronaut uniforms. After a few drinks and snacks the doors to the large dome were opened and the crowd of 200 to 250 people sat down. A great sight to see so many kids excited about ‘their’ astronaut in space.

Live inflight call

The event was hosted by popular astronomer and science writer Govert Schilling (@govertschilling). He explained principles of gravity and weightlessness to the kids and explained how André reached ISS and what living conditions on board are. His explanation was supported by great computer animations of the Soyuz launch and the ISS in the planetarium dome.

A few minutes after five, the black ESA/NASA screen shivered and then showed André Kuipers holding a microphone in the Columbus module. Surrounded by fresh cargo just unloaded from ATV-3 that docked a week earlier. A few seconds later we heard his voice, welcoming the crowd to the zoo and to ISS. A large applause by the excited people in the room followed.

The first question to Andre was about his little stowaway. People had seen pictures of the Zoo mascotte, but didn’t believe the stuffed alien actually made it to the ISS with André. Another big applause arose when André took the mascotte from his a pocket in his flight suit. Laughter when he let it float in front of the camera. More laughter when he explained that the mascotte actually was a special-made mini-version, due to a 20 grams weight allowance for this type of PR objects in space.

Then it was time for the kids to pose their questions live to André. The two prize-winning questions were: “What is your favorit spot in the ISS and why?” (Cupola, for the awesome view) and “Does it smell normal in the ISS, after it has been in orbit for 10 years” (depends on the module. Some are getting moldy, others still smell like a new car). The mayor then asked a question about the ISS as a stepping stone to further human deep space exploration, and the zoo education manager asked about our fragile earth as seen from space. The 15-minute call ended with André doing a weightlessness demonstration, followed by a big round of applause for our national hero in space.

Artis de Marsis: a Dutch space mascotte

Over and over again mascottes seem to be a great way to connect kids to the world of space exploration. @Camilla_SDO does great work for NASA, while @SpaceHuggie, @SpaceTweepMiep @VenusBarbie and @Astro_Chimp are well known #spacetweeps mascottes, mostly used for STEM education purposes.

The Artis de Marsis mascotte in the Cupola can now be seen on large posters all over Amsterdam. This will help sell the mascotte at the Amsterdam zoo shop, but also inspire many kids about space. Good to see another stuffed animal in the ISS!

Concluding, the event was a big success for space PR. Inflight calls with children asking questions are a great way to attract children and students to modern space exploration. Bringing a 20 gram zoo mascotte is another smart way to attract attention to the importance and awesomeness of space science. A great event indeed!

#AndreTweetup 29 May 2012

On 29 of May 2012 ESA will host a live inflight call with André Kuipers, inviting 80 of @Astro_Andre’s 200,000 twitter followers to the Erasmus USOC at ESTEC in The Netherlands for the #AndreTweetup. Attendees will get a VIP tour of ESA’s innovation and test facilities and get a chance to ask their questions live to astronaut André Kuipers on board the ISS. See the official ESA announcement how to register.