NASA joined all the Comic-Con action over the weekend. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) needed a new mission patch. And who better to lead the charge than Marvel’s Groot and Rocket.

Groot and Rocket mission patch

More than 100 science investigations will launch in 2016. And Groot and Rocket will be the ambassadors for each one. You might be wondering why Groot and Rocket? Why Marvel?

It’s all about public outreach. The more NASA can get the public excited, the better their chances of getting the funding they need to keep pushing into the final frontier.

“A major mission for us here at CASIS is to find unique and innovative ways to bring notoriety to the ISS National Laboratory and the research that is being conducted on our orbiting laboratory,” said CASIS Director of Operations and Educational Opportunities Ken Shields. “There are very few brands in the world who have as large an impact as Marvel, and we are thrilled to partner with them on this project and look forward to Rocket and Groot inspiring a new generation of researchers interested in the space station.”

The fun doesn’t stop at just a mission patch. CASIS plans an educational initiative focused on Rocket and Groot to build excitement for kids who aspire to be the next engineers, scientists and explorers.

Who is CASIS? NASA tapped CASIS in 2011 to get as much out of the ISS U.S. National Laboratory as they can through 2020. The organization’s primary goal is to push for innovations and discoveries aboard the ISS. Some of those are focused on pushing us deeper into the final frontier. Others focus on improving the lives of everyone on our little blue marble.

Check out a behind the scenes look at creating the Groot/Rocket mission patch.

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NASA and fictional characters on mission patches

Groot and Rocket aren’t the first fictional characters to join the NASA team. And they won’t be the last. Drumming up public support for missions is almost as important as the mission themselves. Stunning images often do the trick as we saw with New Horizons last year. But sometimes, NASA wants to have a little fun.

When the twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, launched in 2003 – NASA picked two classic cartoon characters to represent the missions.

For Spirit, that was Marvin the Martian.

Marvin the Martian mission patch

And Daffy Duck for Opportunity.

Daffy Duck mission patch

Both missions were rousing successes. Each one lasted much longer than their planned 90-sol mission. Spirit lasted 2208 sols before losing contact. Opportunity is sitting at 4442 sols and is still kicking. Daffy Duck just doesn’t know when to quit.

TMNT mission patch

Yep, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have their own mission patch too. This mission patch represents the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) of the ISS. Three of the four modules making up the MPLM are named after everyone’s favorite ‘heroes in a half shell.’

And then there are fictional characters based on real people. Stephen Colbert has his own patch commemorating a treadmill aboard the International Space Station. It’s called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or COLBERT.

colbert mission patch

In 2009, NASA announced a contest to name a new module heading to the ISS. And Colbert joked that his name should be on it. His fans rallied behind him and shot his name to the top of the list. But NASA didn’t want to name an entire module after Colbert. Instead, they named the module Tranquility (after the Apollo 11 base on the moon). Instead, they placed Colbert’s name on the treadmill aboard the ISS.

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Groot and Rocket won’t be the last fictional characters to have their faces on a mission patch. NASA’s full of too many sci-fi fans to let that happen. I mean, just look at one of the recent ISS crew photos.

ISS crew dressed as Star Wars

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