Camilla the chicken

Space Fowl

I’m in the swissnex San Francisco office sitting face to face with a foot tall, yellow rubber chicken wearing a navy blue space suit. Camilla, as the fowl is called, is the official mascot of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) space mission. She’s here with her PR assistant and bodyguard, Swiss-born Romeo Durscher of Stanford University.

Camilla “Corona” SDO (named after the girlfriend of Gonzo in the Muppets) and Durscher are on a mission of their own: to educate the public by sharing knowledge about the sun and space weather and encouraging young students, girls in particular, to pursue careers in science technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Indeed, the rubber chicken does seem to prompt interaction. Camilla’s Twitter account has more than 2,000 followers and she has close to 4,000 friends on Facebook. When she needed new outfits, her Facebook friends started sewing and she now has 70 to spare.

Durscher is originally from the region of Chur in Switzerland and was a former UBS employee before moving to the US in 1997. He’s visiting San Francisco to present a poster at the American Geophysical Union conference on the use of social media in education.

Part of teaching others about space involves Camilla herself training for space flight. Last May, she actually went up some 100,000 feet in a capsule attached to a weather balloon and visited the edge of space. Unfortunately, when the balloon popped at the expected time, the capsule hit the jet stream on its way down and wound up lost in a Louisiana swamp instead of the Texas landing that NASA had modeled. A concerned public kept watch. More than 500,000 people a day checked Camilla’s Facebook page for updates. Eventually, US Fish and Wildlife launched a search party and the capsule, rubber chicken safe inside, was found.

As Camilla and Romeo pack up their things after a visit to swissnex, they leave behind educational materials about space and countless lessons. The little yellow chicken made everyone smile and made everyone curious to know more. Just another day at the office. Find out more about Camilla