It’s one small step for a doll, one giant leap for dollkind -- Barbie’s latest incarnation is a Mars explorer.
Toy company Mattel is releasing a new version of Barbie, its flagship doll, in collaboration with NASA, on the first anniversary of the Curiosity rover’s Mars landing. Mars Explorer Barbie sports a white and pink spacesuit, with a pink helmet and air tank, and she comes with a small cardboard Curiosity rover, which was given a slight makeover.
Barbie is “ready to add her signature pink splash to the Red Planet,” Mattel said in a statement obtained by Space.com.
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But this is hardly Barbie’s first venture into space. In 1965, two years after cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly in space (and 18 years before America would send into space its first female astronaut), Mattel figuratively entered the space race with “Barbie Miss Astronaut.” The doll wore a sleek gray spacesuit with brown boots and gloves and a very mod white space helmet, and she carried a tiny American flag.
Barbie returned to space in 1985 -- not long after Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space. For this trip, Barbie wore a pink spacesuit that featured the 1980s' signature puffy sleeves.
When she’s not lifeguarding, dancing ballet or serving as President of the U.S., the pink-loving doll has pursued a number of other scientific careers here on Earth as well. Paleontologist Barbie, released in 1997, wore a dinosaur shirt and came with a small plastic trowel and tiny dinosaurs.
In 2010, Mattel commemorated Barbie’s 50th birthday by allowing fans to vote on Barbie’s next career (her 126th job overall, at the time). Various choices included such professions as news anchor, surgeon and environmentalist, but most people chose computer engineer. Computer Engineer Barbie, which Mattel developed in collaboration with the Society of Women Engineers and the National Academy of Engineering, wears a Bluetooth headset, pink glasses, and a binary code T-shirt,and she carries a smartphone and pink laptop.
“We can use any sort of positive influence that we have, because the number of girls studying programming is abysmal,” data consultant Lynn Langit, who worked on a Microsoft program aimed at teaching girls about careers in technology, told the New York Times at the time.
Mattel put its plastic foot in its mouth in 1992 when Teen Talk Barbie proclaimed that “math class is tough,” a move that the American Association of University Women denounced, according to the New York Times. Mattel removed the phrase from the dolls on shelves at the time, and it offered to swap out the doll for any offended customers. The incident also inspired an episode of “The Simpsons” in which Lisa Simpson campaigns to make a less sexist "Malibu Stacy" doll than the original version of the doll.
One quibble with the newest Barbie space explorer is that her suit seems to lack gloves – thereby exposing her to harsh radiation and either freezing or boiling temperatures of the Martian elements. But perhaps Computer Engineer Barbie can design her some replacements.