Smoke Bear in Space for 68th Birthday

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Smokey Bear is the centerpiece for a NASA and US Forest Service campaign to educate the public about the connections and synergies between the two agencies. Smokey took to space with Astronaut Joe Acaba to illustrate those synergies from the International Space Station during Expedition 31 and 32.

NASA Astronaut Joe Acaba wearing a knit cap with a Smokey Bear patch at St. James Bay in Alaska. (Courtesy of Jeff Miller/USDA Forest Service)

NASA Astronaut Joe Acaba wearing a knit cap with a Smokey Bear patch at St. James Bay in Alaska. (Courtesy of Jeff Miller/USDA Forest Service)

A personal relationship between a Southeast Alaska U.S. Forest Service employee and astronaut Joe Acaba, current flight engineer aboard the International Space Station, is responsible for Smokey Bear spending today, his 68th birthday, in space.

Forest Service Alaska Region Partnership and Outreach Program Leader Jeff Miller met, and established a friendship with Acaba several years ago when both of them served with the Peace Corps in the Caribbean. Acaba visited Miller in Juneau on a vacation to get away from the stress of his pre-flight training in preparation for his mission to the International Space Station. While in Juneau, Miller loaned Acaba a stocking cap with a Smokey Bear patch sewn to the front for an overnight trip to St. James Bay in Southeast Alaska.

Later, a seed of an idea grew in Miller’s mind... why not use Smokey Bear as an educational tool to teach people about the cooperation between the U.S. Forest Service and NASA in relation to fire imagery, weather data, and imagery depicting forest health. That seed grew into a full blown memorandum of understanding between the two agencies.

NASA and the USDA Forest Service signed an MOU June 25 to develop and execute a communications and outreach campaign to highlight connections and synergies between the two agencies. The campaign focuses on Acaba’s mission aboard International Space Station Expeditions 31 and 32, Space Station science, and both parties’ shared interest in learning and sharing with the public more about the environment and protecting our planet.

As part of the campaign, Acaba nominated a Smokey Bear to be the talisman/zero gravity indicator (a Russian tradition) for his Soyuz launch May 15, 2012, and his two Russian fellow astronauts agreed. The launch kicked off the multi-faceted outreach campaign. The campaign allows the Forest Service to increase visibility of Smokey Bear and wildfire prevention messaging, as well as heighten awareness of the agency’s work in conservation, forestry and climate change.

While Smokey Bear and Acaba spent Smokey’s 68th birthday in space today, his stand-in celebrated with the employees at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. For more information and images from about Smokey’s birthday party and his space mission, follow him on Twitter @smokey_bear #SmokeyinSpace.

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Ray Massey
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