Why Bristol’s Shaun the Sheep is off on a mission to the moon with NASA

As part of the programme’s 15th year anniversary celebrations, Shaun the Sheep has been announced as a crew member for a NASA spacecrafts’ next mission to the moon

What better way to ring in the 15th anniversary year of Shaun the Sheep, the Bristol-based animation, than with the announcement that the European Space Agency names Shaun the Sheep the first ‘astronaut’ to fly on their Artemis I lunar mission?

Bristol’s Aardman has announced that the famous stop-motion TV character will be aboard the unmanned mission to the moon, taking place on 29 August.

Shaun will be taking the first flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft with an ESA European Service Module, which is planned to go around the Moon and back at the end of the month.

This mission is not carrying a human crew, but will instead be controlled from the ground with its woolly specialist and household name as a passenger.

The flight marks the start of the Artemis programme, a new programme and rocket for a new era of lunar exploration, so Bristol will be making history in the process.

Artemis 1 on the launchpad

Orion and its European Service Module will be launched by the Space Launch System from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. The spacecraft will enter a low-Earth orbit before the rocket’s upper stage fires to take it into a translunar orbit.

The mission means that Shaun will fly almost 500,00 km from the earth and the spacecraft will perform a flyby of the Moon.

It will be using lunar gravity to gain speed and propel itself 70 000 km beyond the Moon, almost half a million km from Earth – farther than any human, or sheep, has ever travelled.

It turns out that Shaun has been preparing and training for this moment for a while.

He began a programme of astronaut training and familiarisation with the Orion spacecraft and its European Service Module in 2020, travelling to various locations across Europe and the USA to see different aspects of the mission.

This training was documented and will be presented in a series of ESA blog posts leading up to launch.

Lucy Wendover, Marketing Director at Aardman said: “Aardman is excited to be joining ESA in making history by launching the first ‘sheep’ into space.

“As one of the first astronauts to fly an Artemis mission, Shaun is leading the way in lunar exploration, a great honour for our woolly adventurer!

“2022 marks the 15th anniversary of Shaun’s first TV series, so what better way to celebrate than by travelling farther than any sheep has gone before.”

And NASA and the ESA are just as excited by the announcement, too. Shaun’s assignment was announced by ESA’s Director for Human and Robotic Exploration Dr David Parker, who commented: “This is an exciting time for Shaun and for us at ESA.

“We’re woolly very happy that he’s been selected for the mission and we understand that, although it might be a small step for a human, it’s a giant leap for lambkind.”