Smokey Bear will soon have friends in high places. (U.S. Forest Service)

An American astronaut heading to the international space station has chosen Smokey Bear as his crew’s mascot.

NASA astronaut Joseph Acaba said Wednesday that he hopes Smokey, the mascot of the United States Forest Service, would help raise public awareness about the dangers posed by forest fires.

He added that Smokey “makes people aware of human-caused fires and how important the natural environment is.”

Acaba and his Russian crewmates, Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin, plan to blast off to the space station on May 15 from a Russian-leased space center in Kazakhstan. The retirement of the U.S. shuttle fleet has left Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft as the only way to deliver crews to the space outpost.

Acaba said the Soyuz spacecraft “has a great history of being reliable.”

Several American companies are competing for permission to carry astronauts into orbit.