What do an astronaut, a mole, and Czech Republic all have in common?
While working on a Czech genealogy assignment recently I came across these three things all together: a United States astronaut, the Czech Republic, and a mole. It made me wonder. What could these three disparate things have in common?
It’s an interesting story so let me explain.
One piece of our puzzle begins, as all good genealogy stories do with a hometown. This hometown happens to be Lake Orion, Michigan. You know Orion. Just like the easily recognizable constellation. It may have been fate that found a young boy growing up in Lake Orion who would eventually enter and conquer the grueling completion to become an astronaut for the United States and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). It might also have been fate that would find, some years later this young man blasting off into outer space aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis on the flight known as STS-125 and later aboard Space Shuttle Endeavor on flight STS-134. This astronaut’s name is Dr. Andrew J. Feustel.
The second piece of our puzzle is the Czech Republic. First, there aren’t that many NASA astronauts who have Czech ancestry in their families. Most know Eugene Cernan was (his mother was Czech). A few might know James Lovell was (his mother was Czech as well). Perhaps not as many know that astronaut Feustel also has Czech blood in his family.
The third piece of our puzzle is a mole. Not just any mole, but a very popular, well known, mole. This mole comes to us courtesy of Czech animator Zdenek Miler. Miler was born Feb 21, 1921 in Kladno and died November 30, 2011 just outside of Prague. Miler was the creator, in 1956, of one of the most beloved cartoon characters outside of the United States. It is his ‘Little Mole’, known as Krtek. Krtek has been in movies shown in more than 80 countries and in more than 50 books, which have sold more than 5 million copies in 20 languages. Quite a feat for a mole I’d say. However, Krtek didn’t stop with his earthly conquests in his books and movies, even though one from the mid-1960s was titled “The Little Mole and the Space Ship”. He went into outer space as well.
This is where the three pieces of our puzzle come together. Well, almost together. We just need to do a bit of genealogy work to find the Czech in astronaut Feustel. Actually it is his mother-in-law and through her and her daughter Dr. Fuestel came to know and enjoy many facets of Czech heritage and culture.
So it was from May 16th to June 1st, 2011 aboard Space Shuttle Endeavor would be six men and two moles. Yes, astronaut Feustel took Krtek with him into outer space and back home again.
Why two moles? Well, one was ‘official’ and one was, shall we say, a stowaway. The second Krtek was aboard with a special mission. To fly in space and come home to be presented to his creator, Zdenek Miler, back in the Czech Republic when Miler was a robust 90 years old.
And just for a touch of trivia, Krtek flew 6,510,221 miles during 248 Earth orbits. I hope he got frequent flyer miles too!
It sure is fun when you come across these types of stories when working on our genealogy. It makes for a great day!
By the way there is more to this story, but that is yet to come and this time we will be adding a poet in the puzzle.