There is perhaps no résumé in existence quite as long as Barbie’s. Known for her endless list of careers, Barbie has decades of experience in business, medicine, modeling, and just about any other industry you can imagine. After all, the intention behind Barbie was that she would allow girls to imagine themselves as young adults. And if you are imagining possible careers, why not think big?
One of her oldest and arguably most iconic careers is as an astronaut. The first astronaut outfit designed for Barbie was released in 1965, meaning she explored space before Neil Armstrong visited the Moon. Several other iterations of Astronaut Barbie have been released since then, some of which are in the Museum’s collection. Recently, that collection has grown with two new astronaut Barbie dolls now on display alongside their predecessors. However, unlike the other space-themed Barbie dolls in the collection, these two have actually been to space — aboard more than just a pink rocket in Barbieland. In 2022, these dolls were sent to the International Space Station as a part of Mission DreamStar, a collaboration between Mattel and NASA that aims to encourage young girls to pursue careers as astronauts and space scientists.
In honor of these two new and very special additions to our collection, we are documenting Barbie’s long career as one of our nation’s foremost space explorers.
Barbie’s career as a Barbieland astronaut began in 1965 with the release of the Miss Astronaut outfit. At the time, Barbie dolls were sold separately from additional sets of clothes, with the idea that the doll would be repeatedly changed into new outfits. The Miss Astronaut set included a silvery spacesuit much like those worn by the Mercury and Gemini astronauts of her time. Her boots were brown, practical, and shockingly un-heeled.
Released 13 years before NASA accepted its first female astronauts and 18 years before the first American woman would go to space, the Miss Astronaut outfitted doll was ahead of her time. As such, she served the important purpose of showing young girls that they too could dream of spaceflight before there were women astronauts at NASA to be such role models.
Earth-bound throughout the 1970s, Barbie once again donned a spacesuit in 1985 — this time with flair. Unsurprisingly, this doll’s fashion choices were heavily influenced by the culture and trends of the 1980s. This version of Astronaut Barbie explores the Moon in a shiny, hot pink spacesuit. In true '80s fashion, her hair is too big to fit fully inside her helmet. 1980s Astronaut Barbie comes complete with a costume change, and the doll in our collection is displayed wearing her second outfit — a shiny peplum miniskirt worn over silver leggings and knee-high pink boots. As seen in the doll’s commercial, the fantastical hot pink and silver lamé outfit works for all occasions, whether you be landing on the Moon or getting down at the space disco.
The idea of a Barbie doll with two outfits – one for work and one for after work – was not unique to this doll. Mattel’s 1985 Day-to-Night Barbie was based around that exact concept. By day, this doll wore a pink blazer and pencil skirt and carried a pink briefcase. By night, she let her hair down (literally and metaphorically) and donned a sparkly pink evening gown.
The first iteration of Barbie as a pilot also employed this day-to-evening costume design. Flight Time Barbie debuted in 1989 wearing a bright pink uniform, but she also came with a rainbow-patterned tutu and neck scarf. The box read: “Pretty pilot changes into glamorous date!”
Much like Miss Astronaut, 1985’s Astronaut Barbie was revolutionary in her own ways. By the mid-1980s, the idea of a woman in space (plastic or human) was nothing new, but this was the first time that a Black Barbie doll became an astronaut. Physician and engineer Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to go to space, flew on STS-47 seven years later.
The 1990s was the first time in Barbie history that two space-themed dolls were released within the same decade. In a clear shift away from the pomp and frills of the 1980s, both of these dolls wear uniforms that much more closely resemble authentic astronaut gear.
Designed to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, 1994’s Astronaut Barbie is dressed in a white spacesuit similar to those worn by the Apollo astronauts in the 1960s and ‘70s. The suit is trimmed with red and silver and contains not a single hint of Barbie’s signature pink. Of the many Barbies who have visited space, this doll probably most closely resembles our mental image of what an astronaut looks like.
In 1998, Mattel released Space Camp Barbie (not in our collection), whose blue flight suit is much more in line with what actual astronauts were wearing during the 1990s. Based on popular Space Camp programs for children and teenagers, this doll was the first space-themed Barbie that wasn’t an astronaut. Unlike Astronaut Barbie, who represents a far-off future goal that children must wait to achieve until they are older, Space Camp Barbie represents a real and immediately attainable way for children to engage with and study space.
2000s and 2010s
After welcoming 1994’s Astronaut Barbie to Air and Space, the Museum went on a long Barbie-collecting hiatus that ended only recently with the addition of two dolls from 2021. Barbie, on the other hand, never rests. Between 2000 and 2020, seven total space-themed Barbie dolls were released. Most notably, Barbie did what no human has yet achieved and traveled to Mars! In 2013, Mars Explorer Barbie claimed the Red Planet for Barbieland. Clad in a white spacesuit with shimmery pink detailing, this doll perfectly blends the more realistic, practical styles of the 1960s and ‘90s with the hyperfeminine fashions of the 1980s.
During this time, Mattel also released another iteration of Space Camp Barbie (2008) as well as two scientist dolls: Space Scientist Barbie (2017) and Astrophysicist Barbie (2019). Several space-themed dolls based on real women were also released, perhaps in an attempt to show young girls that their dreams aren’t only possible in Barbieland. Among these highlighted women are Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician who worked on the Mercury program; Sally Ride, the first American woman in space; and Samantha Cristoforetti, the first Italian woman in space.
2021: Space Discovery Barbie
In 2021, Mattel released its most recent astronaut doll with the Barbie Space Discovery line. This version of astronaut Barbie wears a white spacesuit with pink and blue detailing, white gloves, and white boots. The best part about this doll is that it's actually been to space! This is the version of Barbie that was chosen for Mattel’s Mission DreamStar expedition to the International Space Station in 2022.
Two Barbies from the Space Discovery line launched aboard an Antares rocket in February 2022 and spent several months on the International Space Station (ISS). While on board the ISS, the Barbies got a tour of the station, including the Cupola (a set of windows through which astronauts can look out into space), Veggie Garden, and Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer. After they returned to Earth, the Barbies joined the National Air and Space Museum collection, and they are now on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
Like anything else that flies in space, the two dolls received special preparation before the flight. Although Barbie dolls are well known for coming with multiple accessories; those remained on the ground for this mission. And both Barbie dolls sport hair that has been styled, not just to prevent the flyaways of a bad hair day, but also to literally keep any hair from shedding into the spaceflight environment.
Visitors to the museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, can see four iterations of Astronaut Barbie: 1965 Miss Astronaut, 1985 Astronaut Barbie, 1994 Moon landing Barbie, and the two Barbies that went to space in 2022. They join a vast collection of aviation and space themed toys that explore how society and culture has been impacted by flight and space exploration.
Bonus: Barbie has also had a long career in aviation! Over the years she has served as a flight attendant, commercial pilot, military pilot, and more. The Museum has five aviation-themed Barbies (and one Ken) in its collection, though they are not on display at this time.
Update (July 31, 2023): Since the publication of this blog, the National Air and Space Museum has learned that a Barbie doll was taken aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis on the classified STS-38 mission in 1990, making the Space Discovery Barbie dolls in our collection not the first Barbie dolls to go to space, but the first to visit the International Space Station. The blog has been updated accordingly.