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Is Barbie's Mars Explorer doll out of this world?

Categories: Science & Technology

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Mattel partnered with NASA to make the Mars Explorer Barbie to commemorate the first anniversary of the Mars Curiosity rover's landing on the red planet. (Mattel)

In collaboration with NASA, Mattel is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Curiosity Rover's landing on Mars with the Mars Explorer Barbie doll.

"Ready to add her signature pink splash to the "red planet," the Barbie® doll is outfitted in a stylish space suit with pink reflective accents, helmet, space pack and signature pink space boots," says Mattel in a press release posted Monday.

Barbie's space suit is certainly more stylish than that of a normal astronaut. The packaging for the figure includes art of the Mars Curiosity rover - accented in pink - roaming the Martian surface.

It also includes a link to the Women at NASA website, which promotes women's contributions to science and encourages girls to consider and encourage careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics.)

The figure is one from Barbie's "I Can Be" product line that portrays Barbie in several careers, from a dentist to a news anchor to an engineer. This isn't the first time Barbie's been sent into space: in 1965 Mattel released the Miss Astronaut Barbie to commemorate Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly in space.

Some commentators have criticized The Mars Explorer Barbie's overly pink outfit and focus on style - indeed, the new figure includes much more pink on the suit and accessories than 1965's Miss Astronaut version. In contrast, the 1985 Astronaut Barbie doll was almost entirely pink, complete with poofy sleeves and knee-high boots.

"Mars Explorer Barbie's un-gloved hands seem to be blissfully impervious to both the chilly Martian weather (average temperature: -80 degrees Fahrenheit) and the high radiation levels of the thin Martian atmosphere," writes a sarcastic Megan Garber for The Atlantic.

"Why the hell did Mattel make NASA's astronaut Barbie pink?" reads the title of a piece by Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz.  "If there are no astronaut suits with pink elements, why make them pink?  'Because girls like pink' is probably their weak non-argument."

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Left: The 1965 Miss Astronaut Barbie figure. Right: 1985's version of Astronaut Barbie. (Mattel)

Reaction hasn't been all negative, however. Continues Diaz:  "If this small step for a doll ends with a woman taking a giant leap for all Humanity on the surface of Mars, we all can be happy about it."

For some readers, a few pink accents to grab the attention of little girls appears worth it, especially since the packaging includes information about several women space explorers and was a collaborative effort with NASA itself.

"Anything that goes against the pernicious and persistent stereotype that girls should hate math and love shopping -- even if it is a pink, gloveless, ridiculously photogenic astronaut Barbie -- is a wonderful thing," writes commenter agonist on The Atlantic's article.

Even with the pink-ified suit and accessories, though, taking on a mission to mars might make this Barbie's bravest and most ambitious of her 130 or so career choices over the years.

Gizmodo's Adam Clarke Estes reminds readers that "Mars Astronaut Barbie is nice and all but she's going to die in space."

"While your knowledge-loving friends like Computer Science Barbie and Architect Barbie are both positive role models and not doomed, once you start that long trek to the red planet, you're going to hit the point of no return real quick."

What do you think about Mars Explorer Barbie? Is it a positive message to young girls about space exploration as a career, or cheap marketing pink-washing? Is it both of these, or neither?

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Tags: POV, Technology and Science

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