Czech cartoon hero Little Mole returns home from orbit aboard space shuttle Endeavour

PRAGUE – A stuffed toy of Little Mole, the Czech cartoon hero, returned home Friday after a voyage to outer space on NASA’s shuttle Endeavour.

The 7.5-inch (19-centimetre) toy accompanied American astronaut Andrew Feustel on NASA’s last shuttle mission. Feustel’s wife, Indira, is of Czech origin.

Feustel arrived in Prague Friday carrying the toy – modeled after the character created by Czech animator Zdenek Miler and known locally as “krtek.”

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The Little Mole character is always cheerful and ready to help those in need. He has appeared in many cartoons since his creation in 1956 and is popular among children in Eastern Europe and countries such as Germany, Austria, China and India.

He said the mole enjoyed the flight, but was not allowed to space walk because he didn’t have a proper suit.

“Krtek spent a lot of time floating around the international space station,” Feustel said.

On its last voyage that ended June 1, Endeavour took the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station where it will collect evidence of antimatter, dark matter and other elusive elements of the universe over the next 20 years.

“We recognized the need to move on from the space shuttle,” Feustel said. “We’re excited about what new programs may come along, and we’re looking forward to our future in space.”

Feustel had hoped by bringing along the stuffed creature, the flight would help get young people interested in space, science and astronomy.

Norman Eisen, the U.S. ambassador to Prague, said Friday that Feustel has agreed to become a co-chair of a new Czech-American scientific program for the youngsters.

“We’re happy to bring krtek back and show him around and try to bring the awareness of science and technology to the youth of the country and help support the new program,” Feustel said.

Feustel will visit the mole’s creator, who turned 90 in February, during a tour of the country at the invitation of the Academy of Sciences.