They flew a damn Kerbal to the International Space Station

Kerbal Space Program is a simulation game, released on Steam Early Access in 2013, where players take command of an embryonic space program manned by Kerbals. These little green humanoid things are quite charming, and one of the joys of the game is seeing these muppet-like characters tackling the game’s extremely in-depth physics system: if your skill level is anything like mine, often not. do well for them.

But I imagine the engineers at Boeing are pretty good at the game, and in fact, they seem to love it. The company’s Starliner capsule recently docked with the International Space Station and brought a surprise passenger along for the ride: Jebediah Kerman, one of the game’s four original Kerbals, was strapped next to a humanoid test dummy (thanks Engadget).

I suppose this fits Starliner’s narrative a bit: the project has had some high-profile failures and, in popular perception, lags a bit behind other private space exploration ventures like SpaceX. Multiple setbacks followed by a successful launch certainly sounds like the Kerbal Space Program.

This is also something of a tradition in space flight. The first successful cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, carried a small doll with him to watch him float as he entered orbit in 1961. This practical application, using a toy as a ‘zero-g indicator’, persisted: after his flight, Gagarin was later presented with a Geisha doll in Japan, which three decades later the Japanese journalist Toyohiro Akiyama would take it to space. The first teddy bear in space, Magellan T. Bear, went up in 1995 and is now at the Smithsonian.

Boeing told CollectSpace that “Jeb’s presence aboard the Starliner was kept secret until the unmanned capsule successfully docked to the space station. It was left for the station’s Expedition 67 crew to discover floating on the end of a rope when they opened the hatch for the commercial spacecraft.”

Boeing engineers have in the past talked about the Kerbal Space Program as something of an inspiration, a game that encourages kids to take an interest in the countryside. Jeb will spend the next few days aboard the ISS until it returns to Earth on Starliner.

I’m not sure what to say about this other than: boffins go boffin.

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