When John Lasseter, Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer, learned that a Buzz Lightyear action figure from the movie Toy Story was going to the International Space Station, “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” he said.
Lasseter was at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum today for the formal ceremony presenting the action figure (which spent 15 months in orbit) to the Museum. “I started crying when Discovery connected to the International Space Station,” said Lasseter. “There’s a tube that the astronauts go through, to go from the shuttle into the space station, and they didn’t carry Buzz. They opened his wings, they put his arms out, and Buzz Lightyear flew, in space, himself, up that tube, into the International Space Station. I’ve got chills right now thinking about it.”
Lasseter remembers watching the televised Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions as a child. “They were my heroes,” he explains. So years later, when a script called for a flashy toy to replace a child’s favorite—Woody the cowboy—”I said we have to have the toy be the coolest one you could imagine. The origin of Buzz, in every way, comes from NASA,” said Lasseter.
Margaret Weitekamp, a curator in the Museum’s Space History Division, noted that the Pixar/NASA donation includes videos and educational materials produced by Disney and Pixar to inspire children to get excited about science and technology. Later in the summer, Pixar’s Mission Launch videos will help educate visitors about the concepts of rendezvous, reentry, and space science. And Buzz Lightyear will have a place of honor in the mockup of the space shuttle’s crew cabin in the Museum’s Moving Beyond Earth gallery.
After the ceremony, Lasseter and Weitekamp took questions from the audience. “If Buzz was actually alive,” asked a young visitor from West Virginia, “what would those three buttons be for?” Lasseter explained they were Buzz’s communicator and voice box: “When he’s on location in the Gamma quadrant of Sector 3, and he’s out there as a space ranger, those buttons work different kinds of communication back to Star Command.”
When a visitor wondered where Buzz spent his time between flying on the shuttle and being accepted into the Smithsonian’s collections, Lasseter replied, “He was at Walt Disney World, Florida, riding rides.”
“Today is, without question, one of the greatest days of my life,” said Lasseter, of the donation.