PRAGUE – Little Mole, a cartoon hero for many children, will join astronauts aboard NASA's shuttle Endeavour.
The 19-centimeter (7.5-inch) toy version of the character, created by Czech animator Zdenek Miler, has been chosen to accompany U.S. astronaut Andrew Feustel on Endeavour's last mission as NASA ends its shuttle program.
Feustel's wife, Indira, is partly of Czech origin.
The Little Mole character is always cheerful and ready to help those in need. Known as "krtek" in Czech (pronounced KRRR-tech), he was created by Miler in Prague in 1956. He has appeared in many cartoons and is popular among children in Eastern Europe and countries such as Germany, Austria, China and India.
Czech scientists and officials at the American Center in Prague said Tuesday the goal is to draw the attention of young people to space flights and astronomy.
"It is our hope that with krtek's help our mission inspires students and adults to excel in the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics that will be essential to future space exploration and beneficial to human kind," Feustel said in a video message.
Miler, who turned 90 in February, said in a letter to Feustel he was honored.
Norman Eisen, the U.S. ambassador to Prague, said Tuesday that he watches the Little Mole's adventures with his 9-year-old daughter and his wife on DVD and YouTube.
"The choice of krtek as a guide for educational programs about space exploration will make the study of our universe more fun for children of all nationalities," Eisen said.
The American center has prepared a program for children about the space shuttle's history.
In one of the episodes from the mid-1960s — "the Little Mole and the Space Ship" — the mole boards a rocket but something goes wrong and it crash lands on a deserted island.
"Who would have believed," said Eisen "that the Little Mole would actually make it into space one day on a real rocket?"
"This is prove that the friendship between the Czech Republic and the United States makes dreams come true," he said.
In his previous space mission in 2009, Feustel brought into space a copy of a poetry book "Cosmic Songs" by Jan Neruda, a Czech 19th-century author and poet.
On its last voyage, Endeavour will take the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station to collect evidence of antimatter, dark matter and other elusive elements of the universe over the next 20 years.
Endeavour with the Little Mole aboard is due to blast off April 19.