GiGi the Build-A-Bear zero-g indicator to fly on Ax-3 mission

As it turns out, when you build a bear to fly into space, one mission is not enough.

“GiGi,” the Build-A-Bear doll outfitted in a miniature version of Axiom Space’s next-generation lunar spacesuit, will be returning to Earth orbit on Ax-3, Axiom’s third crewed mission to the International Space Station set to launch this month. The doll — and the partnership that led to its creation — debuted on Ax-2 in 2023.

“We love to foster creativity and create special moments at Build-A-Bear, so we are pleased to continue our partnership with Axiom Space and see our beloved GiGi head back to orbit as part of the Ax-3 mission,” Julia Fitzgerald, chief marketing officer at Build-A-Bear, said in a statement. “Our bears are always there for a hug and friendship, but we especially love when they can also provide the inspiration for pursuing a ‘sky’s not the limit’ adventure.”

As it did on its first flight into space, GiGi will serve as the “zero gravity indicator.” Traditionally, Russian cosmonauts and later U.S. astronauts have tethered small toys inside their spacecraft cabins such that when they are seen floating it is a signal that they have reached orbit. GiGi was the first Build-A-Build doll to become a zero-g indicator or otherwise be flown into space.

Related: Axiom Space names Ax-3 astronaut crew for SpaceX mission to ISS

Axiom Space and Build-A-Bear’s GiGi seen floating in the Cupola aboard the International Space Station in May 2023. (Image credit: Axiom Space)

Though GiGi is not the first toy to fly more than once, most zero-g indicators only serve one crew.

“Not only does this mark a special moment in history, but we also hope GiGi’s story inspires children to consider STEAM activities, hobbies and even careers,” said Fitzgerald.

GiGi’s other role on both of its Axiom missions has been and continues to be to engage kids around the world to learn about space and consider jobs in science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM).

“Our partnership with Build-A-Bear is key in helping to drive curiosity in young minds about space exploration,” said Sandra Nelson, vice president of marketing at Axiom Space. “We want our fifth crew member, GiGi, to inspire youth in space exploration and encourage them to grow their knowledge about STEAM. It’s imperative that we build a diverse workforce with a unique skillset ready to drive innovations and fuel new ideas to advance civilization.”

The Ax-3 mission is the first all-European commercial astronaut mission to launch to the space station. GiGi’s new crewmates include pilot Walter Villadei of the Italian Air Force and mission specialists Alper Gezeravc of Türkiye and Marcus Wandt of Sweden, who is flying on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Leading the mission is Michael López-Alegría, Axiom’s chief astronaut who previously flew on Ax-1 and four missions for NASA. He holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Spain.

An Axiom Space representative wears the company’s AxEMU spacesuit while “swimming” in a sea of Build-A-Bear “Happy Hugs Teddy” dolls, each clad in a replica of the next-generation lunar pressure garment. (Image credit: Axiom Space)

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