‘Sasha’ the sloth sets new speed records as the zero-g indicator for SpaceX Crew-7

On August 26, 2023, a new record may have been set for the fastest-moving sloth in the world. Not just any sloth, but a three-toed sloth. This incredible feat was achieved by Crew-7 pilot Andreas “Andy” Mogensen, a Danish astronaut with the European Space Agency (ESA), who is currently on his way to the International Space Station (ISS) for a six-month stay.

Mogensen, along with his crewmates Jasmin Moghbeli of NASA, Satoshi Furukawa of JAXA, and Konstantin Borisov of Roscosmos, are traveling at a mind-boggling speed of 17,500 miles per hour (28,200 kilometers per hour) in Earth orbit. And accompanying them on this high-speed journey is Sasha, the three-toed sloth.

Sasha has a special role in this mission – to serve as the astronauts’ “zero-g indicator.” Once the spacecraft entered orbit and transitioned into microgravity, Sasha would start floating in the cabin, signaling to the crew that they were in space. Mogensen proudly introduced Sasha as their zero-g indicator, explaining that it was chosen by his three children because sloths are their favorite animals.

For Mogensen and his family, sloths hold a special place in their hearts. During a trip to Costa Rica, they had the opportunity to see sloths in the wild. One memorable moment was when a young sloth appeared above them at the beach and hung out. This experience left a lasting impression on them.

However, there is another reason why Sasha the sloth was chosen. Mogensen’s children affectionately refer to him as a sloth, with strong encouragement from his wife. They playfully tease him about being slow and always being the last one to leave the house. Hence, it was only fitting that their zero-g indicator be a three-toed sloth.

The tradition of flying zero-g indicators dates back to the first person to fly into space, Soviet-era cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. He took a small doll with him on his 1961 mission to observe its floating behavior in microgravity. Since then, this practice has been adopted by Russian missions, and SpaceX, along with other companies and NASA, followed suit.

When Crew-7 reaches the ISS on Sunday, Sasha the sloth will meet “Suhail,” the symbol of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) astronaut program and the Crew-6 zero-g indicator. This encounter will be a significant moment for these symbolic representatives of different space programs.

Sasha is not the only interesting zero-g indicator that has flown on SpaceX missions. Previous indicators include a co-branded Build-A-Bear dressed in an Axiom Space AxEMU spacesuit, a “Little Thinker” Albert Einstein doll, and a plush toy modeled after the golden retrievers that serve as assistance dogs at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The Crew-7 zero-g indicator, Sasha, is an 8-inch (20-centimeter) plush animal from Wild Republic’s Ecokins line. These toys are made from 100 percent recycled water bottles and are part of their “soft and cuddly” collection. The Ecokins Sloth Mini, similar to Sasha, is available for purchase at $14.

Apart from its record-breaking speed, Sasha the sloth may also teach us a valuable lesson about life in space. Jessica Meir, a NASA astronaut who co-hosted the broadcast of the Crew-7 launch, shares a saying often heard in space: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” Rushing in space can lead to trouble, so taking things slow and steady is important for a successful mission.

As Crew-7 embarks on their journey to the ISS with Sasha the sloth by their side, they carry with them the spirit of exploration, scientific progress, and the joy of a playful and symbolic representation of Earth’s wildlife.