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Rocket Raccoon and Groot are headed to the International Space Station.
The Marvel Comics' "Guardians of the Galaxy" characters, a talking raccoon and a sentient tree-like creature, star on the mission patch representing all of the science payloads launching in 2016 to the U.S. National Laboratory on board the orbiting outpost.
"We're really excited to take this on because we really like the whole idea of doing something for the space station," said Darren Sanchez, a Marvel Custom Solutions project manager and editor. "The patch is a really cool idea and to utilize a Marvel character for the space station for CASIS, that's a very cool project."
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, manages the U.S. National Lab under a contract with NASA. The non-profit made the announcement of the Marvel patch at San Diego Comic-Con on Friday.
"A major mission for us here at CASIS is to find unique and innovative ways to bring notoriety to the International Space Station National Laboratory and the research that is being conducted," stated Ken Shields, CASIS's operations and educational opportunities director. "There are very few brands in the world who have as large an impact as Marvel and we are thrilled to partner with them on this project."
"[We] look forward to Rocket and Groot inspiring a new generation of researchers interested in the space station," Shield said.
The red, white and blue patch, which depicts Rocket sitting on Groot's shoulder as they look up to the space station, is the fourth insignia to be designed for CASIS payloads, but the first to feature Marvel's characters. Previous increment patches were designed by actor Seth Green, street artist Shepard Fairey and by Cobra Puma Golf.
The Rocket and Groot patch was drawn by Marvel Comics artist Juan Doe.
"We knew whatever artist we approached for this type of thing would be really excited to do it," said Sanchez in a video released by CASIS. "[Doe] is kind of a different artist than most. He is more graphic, he is like a fine artist and he's done some really cool Marvel covers. I think he was a great choice for this and he was super excited to take this on."
Doe's early sketches for the mission patch had Rocket and Groot dominating the emblem, without the space station as a visual element. As he refined his artwork and it neared its completion, the orbiting laboratory was added, as were some less obvious touches.
"Some of my favorite details in the patch are the things that Juan Doe chose to do that are really subtle. The stars in the background are the flame from inside the Guardians of the Galaxyshield," Sanchez explained.
Though it was only just revealed, the Marvel patch already represents payloads that are in orbit.
The latest delivery of National Laboratory research arrived at the station on Wednesday (July 20) on board a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. The more than 40 science experimentsinclude testing a magnetic levitation device to study bone loss, seeing how stem cell-derived heart cells mature and age in microgravity and demonstrating a next-generation, three-dimensional solar cell.
In total, during 2016, more than 100 science investigations are slated to launch and be conducted on the International Space Station National Lab, representing life, physical and material sciences, Earth observation and student inquiries.
"The space station is all about pushing boundaries, literally expanding our horizons beyond just this planet, so I think it is really unique endeavor," Mark Basso, a project manager and editor at Marvel Custom Solutions, said. "It's really just an honor to be a part of that whole mission."
The mission patch is just the beginning of what CASIS has planned for Rocket and Groot, who in the comics hail from and travels through space.
"These are characters who have a bit of a space-based background to begin with, so both already embody some of the characteristics associated with what is happening on the space station," said Patrick O'Neill, the marketing and communications manager for CASIS. "It is exciting for us because this is hopefully the beginning of something that goes beyond just the mission patch."
According to CASIS, Rocket and Groot will be the focus of an education flight contest intended to "inspire, excite and mobilize the next generation of scientists and engineers." The competition will be announced later this year.