Rocket Lab’s sleek, black Electron rocket is set to launch from New Zealand’s picturesque Māhia Peninsula on Thursday. The mission is a significant step in the plucky spaceflight startup’s ambitious plans to recover a rocket booster in midair with a helicopter. It’s also set to be momentous for gnomes and Gabe Newell, founder of video game powerhouse Valve.
A 5-inch titanium garden gnome, dubbed Gnome Chompski, will be strapped to the Electron rocket’s Kick Stage, a circular platform that drops satellites into orbit and then falls back toward the Earth, for the duration of the mission.
Chompski will be familiar to Half-Life fans. In Half-Life 2: Episode Two, carrying the gnome from its hiding spot in the communications building to a rocket earns the achievement Little Rocket Man. Fitting, then.
And real-world Chompski isn’t just a fancy weight to attach to a rocket booster. It’s performing science. The gnome was created with a novel 3D printing technique, with support of New Zealand’s Weta Workshop, that will be put to the test on its way into the great beyond.
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Chompski’s flight isn’t all science and video games, either. It’s also going to contribute to charity. For every viewer of the launch, Newell has pledged to donate $1 to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit New Zealand’s Starship Foundation. You can find out how to watch here.
What fate ultimately awaits the gnome? Not a pretty one. Eventually, the Kick Stage and Chompski will burn up upon re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere.
Try not to think about that too much and just enjoy the ride.