SpaceX launches Earth buddy to space station, family-owned business blasts off

Elon Musk's tweet skyrockets Celestial Buddies sales

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. - A last-minute addition of an Earth plush toy added inside SpaceX's Crew Dragon has created international demand for the father-and-daughter business that created and designed the stuffed Earth buddy.

SpaceX's human-rated space capsule blasted off on a Falcon 9 rocket Saturday at 2:49 a.m. from Kennedy Space Center. While no astronauts were on board this critical test flight, a test dummy named Ripley and the soft Earth toy served as sensors to help determine what crew will experience when they do fly on Crew Dragon, possibly as soon as July.

The toy came from Celestial Buddies, a Guilford, Connecticut, business run by daughter, Jessie Silbert, and Jon Silbert, 75, a former Connecticut Superior Court judge.

The idea was all Jessie's, her father said, adding his daughter is a bit of a science geek. Nine years ago, she thought about the need for toys designed to "delight and enlighten" children about the solar system.

"She did what she does best and she started designing," Jon Silbert said.

It started with the Earth, sun and Mars, and eventually Jessie designed educational plush toys of all eight planets, dwarf planet Pluto, a black hole and the star Polaris.

Jon Silbert said the black hole, which is about 30 inches, unintentionally doubles as a sleeping bag for small children, according to emails he has received from parents.

Jessie Silbert, now 37, spent 14 years in the New York fashion industry designing for big name companies. She and her husband are now at the University of Oregon where she is earning her master's degree in sports product design, her father said.

Crew Dragon, Ripley and Earth buddy arrived at the International Space Station Sunday morning.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques have been showing their guest around its temporary home.

Earth buddy has been working out with the astronauts, doing some space station plumbing, learning how the emergency masks work in case of an ammonia leak and helping the astronauts try on their new spacesuits.

Jon Silbert said his daughter has been sending him the photos of Earth buddy's space adventures as the astronauts tweet them.

"Spectacular and funny and cute and an absolute delight out of nowhere," Jon Silbert said of the surprise of seeing his daughter's toy in space.

The Silberts didn't know until late Friday that Earth Buddy was preparing to launch from the same pad as Apollo 11 at Kennedy Space Center.

"I had noticed on Friday evening there were a lot of orders and they were almost all coming in from either Florida or California," Silbert said.

Then he got an email telling him the SpaceX launch included the Earth buddy on board.

"Super high tech zero-g indicator added just before launch!" SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet with a photo of the plush toy inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft 

The huggable Earth buddy quickly sold out on the company's website after the launch and the globes are selling for up to $150 on eBay.

News 6 went on a scavenger hunt in the Orlando area to find an Earth buddy, nabbing the last one in stock at Maison Baby Boutique in Maitland.

"I went to bed and when I woke up there were hundreds of orders," Jon Silbert said. "I couldn’t believe what I was seeing."

News 6 found an Earth buddy made by Celestial Buddies at Maison Baby Boutique in Maitland. It was the last one in the Central Florida area. (Image: Emilee Speck/WKMG)

A message on the Celestial Buddies website explains the issue the small business is having keeping up with the new demand.

"We apologize for our current lack of Earths. We have never had a product on back order before but we have never had one of our products launched into space before, and we were taken totally by surprise."

Jon Silbert said they are working with their local manufacturer in Stratford, Connecticut, to keep up with the demand but asks for patience from customers as they restock.

Celestial Buddies even makes a larger version of Earth, called Our Precious Planet. Silbert said the larger design was meant to help start a conversation about climate change and global warming between parents and their children. That version is still in stock for $24.99 but also in limited supply.

As for what happens to the internationally famous Earth buddy onboard the space station, Jon Silbert said he would love for McClain to keep it and if it returns he hopes SpaceX offers it up for auction to go to a charity.

On Thursday, when the Crew Dragon hatch closed ahead of the return to Earth the little Earth remained on the space station with the astronauts.

“At the last minute from what I heard, they decided to keep it on board with the astronauts and they’re very pleased,” Silbert said.

Also, Silbert said if he could contact Musk, he would want to say thank you.

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