Rocket Lab’s sleek, black Electron rocket is. The mission was a significant step in the plucky spaceflight startup’s ambitious plans to recover a rocket booster in midair with a helicopter. But it was also a momentous launch for gnomes and Gabe Newell, founder of video game powerhouse Valve.
A 5-inch titanium garden gnome, dubbed Gnome Chompski, was 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. Weirdly, to celebrate the flight, Valve updated the achievements for Half-Life 2: Episode Two, a game that’s now 13 years old.
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.
Chompski’s flight wasn’t all science and video games though. It also contributed to charity. For every viewer of the launch, Newell pledged to donate $1 to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit New Zealand’s Starship Foundation. It’s unclear how many people tuned in live across Twitch and YouTube at present.
What fate ultimately awaits Chompski? 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.