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NASA “spokeschicken” charms science learners

Photonics Spectra
Feb 2013

Don’t be fooled by her appearance – Camilla is no ordinary rubber chicken. She’s a social media celebrity, an educator and an inspiration, traveling around the world and even to the edge of space in the name of science.

Her full name is Camilla Corona SDO, and her purpose in life is to educate kids of all ages about space research. She serves as mission mascot for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, launched in 2010 to study solar activity using measurement instruments such as the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly.

Camilla boasts a substantial following on Twitter, Facebook and Google+, where her recent posts have explored the Mayan Calendar, the solar eclipse she observed in Australia and the causes of great solar explosions.

Camilla the rubber chicken is the mission mascot for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Laboratory. As NASA’s ambassador, mostly to children, she tours the world and beyond, and regularly posts solar and other space news for her many social media fans.

“Not only do I share knowledge about our sun and space weather, but I also encourage girls to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),” she wrote on her Facebook page.

To spread her message, she makes frequent visits to science fairs, space exhibits, museums and even sci-fi conventions. She also has been taking classrooms by storm, according to NASA writer Tony Phillips, who calls Camilla NASA’s cure for the common phobia of asking “stupid” questions. After all, being in the presence of an astrophysicist or an astronaut might make even the most inquisitive kid feel a little shy about asking a question. But a cute rubber chicken in a white knit space suit isn’t nearly so intimidating.

“Nobody’s afraid to talk to a rubber chicken,” said Romeo Durscher of Stanford University, who serves as Camilla’s executive secretary.

Camilla has certainly gone where no rubber chicken has gone before. Last September, high school students in Bishop, Calif., outfitted her with radiation sensors and sent her to the edge of space to gather information on a solar radiation storm. She made the trip via the payload of a helium balloon and parachuted back to Earth with plenty of data for the students to analyze.

Her adventures took a perhaps more dangerous turn closer to home when she accidentally became stuck in the hose of a space toilet trainer. But she didn’t mind the embarrassment: The incident started a conversation on how space toilets work.

The space chicken’s next adventure could land her at the International Space Station, where, floating in the background, she might help to “break the ice” for astronauts as they chat with Earth-bound schoolkids and reporters.

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