Bitmoji photo of Joseph Gruber

Joseph Gruber

Thoughts from a spacecraft engineering manager, photographer, coffee aficionado, and future Mars resident.

A Rubber Chicken, Teddy Bear, and a Stuffed Pig

A rubber chicken, teddy bear, and stuffed pig high in the stratosphere of Earth

No, this is not the beginning of a bad joke. Over the past four days, I have honestly been worried about the welfare and survival of a rubber chicken, a teddy bear, and a stuffed pig. Before you call the people with the strait jackets let me explain.

The name of the rubber chicken is Camilla Corona SDO, the teddy bear’s name is Fuzz Aldrin, and the pig is Skye Blue. These three fearless animals are part of a team that have prepared for several months for the launch of BTS-1, or Balloon Transport System. On Sunday morning, around 11A Central Time, their launch vehicle (weather balloon) lifted off with their capsule (foam container) attached, named Inspiration, along with the crew and scientific equipment (cameras). Dozens of people on the ground, as well as on Twitter, followed along with the excitement until a few hours later when the ground track showed the capsule as having landed in the Gulf of Mexico! A few minutes after the disappointment of possibly losing the capsule to the Gulf of Mexico the ground track returned good data showing that the balloon had burst, as expected, and the capsule and crew descending via their parachute over the Texas and Louisiana border near Port Arthur. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as we saw the capsule floating towards a landing near Sabine Lake. What follows however is the reason I have been worried about a rubber chicken, teddy bear, and pig over the last few days. The last good data point received from the capsule showed the altitude at 255 feet and slightly to the east of Sabine Lake near the edge of the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge and the Willow Bayou. The BTS-1 Recovery Team raced to the site only to realize that were was no way for them to get into the bayou or across the lake. After several hours of attempting to rescue the capsule and its crew, and even though Camilla Corona SDO, Fuzz Aldrin, and Skye Blue have had wilderness and survival training, the decision to resume the search the following morning had to be made. But even with gaining access to a boat the following day, as well as with the help of the Louisiana Department of Fish and Wildlife, the search is still ongoing, three days later, for the BTS-1 capsule and its intrepid crew.

So let us get serious for a moment. BTS-1 along with its three-member crew is part of the project Mission Raise Space Awareness Balloon (RASB). Over the past few months, through the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory, a NASA project to help us understand the Sun’s influence, I had learned about this mission to launch a weather balloon up to the edge of space, almost 100,000 feet, in order to promote science education and space awareness. I soon began to follow the mascot of the NASA SDO project, and mission commander of BTS-1, Camilla Corona SDO. From there I further learned about the rest of the BTS-1 crew including Fuzz Aldrin, the BTS-1 Pilot, who is one of the ambassadors for Bears On Patrol. Bears on Patrol is a non- profit organization which offers an amazing service providing police departments with teddy bears to give to small children in traumatic situations. Along with Camilla and Fuzz Aldrin, I also discovered Skye Bleu, Mission Specialist of BTS-1, who is the representative of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), of which I am a member.

You may be wondering at this point, why I have been worried over the past few days about a silly chicken, stuffed bear, and pig. Honestly, it has less to do with the inanimate objects that are onboard the BTS-1 capsule but more to do with what they represent. Numerous individuals have been following the launch of BTS-1, which surely has reached its goal of inspiring future engineers, scientists, and explorers as well as raising awareness of science and space education. In addition, it has shown adults and children alike that reaching the edge of space is truly achievable. In my mind, anything that allows us to highlight space and science education and technology is a winner, especially in light of America’s future plans for aerospace and aeronautics. The day of the launch was truly inspiring for me as I chatted and communicated with numerous individuals with a common interest in space and science. Moreover, social media showed great potential as we all communicated and collaborated in real-time with the recovery team to get them on the right roads and updated ground track information. Through the outcome, there will be lessons learned by the BTS-1 team but overall this mission has already been quite a success!

While the search is still on down in the Louisiana bayous for this white foam container with some cameras and stuffed animals inside, many, including myself, are still holding out hope for BTS-1 and its three-member crew of Camilla Corona SDO, Fuzz Aldrin, and Skye Blue. In addition, let us not forget about the rewards gained from the recovery as well – those amazing camera shots from up near the edge of space! For more information about BTS-1, its crew and their organizations please visit the links below.  And for future updates on the mission, including the recovery, follow the mission blog at

Ad Astra Per Aspera!