Great question, Rocket. In recent years, NASA has really ramped up its efforts to use pop-culture tie-ins to engage with the public. When "The Martian" — a movie about an astronaut getting stuck on Mars — came out in 2015, NASA's social media team worked relentlessly to tie its “#JourneytoMars” campaign to the successful film's marketing. It's likely that the agency oversold its ability to actually make it to Mars, but since NASA won't get more funding without public support, you can't blame it for trying to get us amped for a trip that might not happen anytime soon. The agency has also done recent campaigns with Lego and made valiant efforts to jump on the "Star Wars" sequel bandwagon. It also drilled two stars of the newest "Star Trek" movie on space trivia, because you really don't need to pick one or the other:
“A major mission for us here at CASIS is to find unique and innovative ways to bring notoriety to the ISS National Laboratory and the research that is being conducted on our orbiting laboratory,” CASIS Director of Operations and Educational Opportunities Ken Shields said in a statement. “There are very few brands in the world who have as large an impact as Marvel, and we are thrilled to partner with them on this project and look forward to Rocket and Groot inspiring a new generation of researchers interested in the space station.”
CASIS manages the National Laboratory on the International Space Station (ISS). Its job is to make sure United States astronauts on the ISS are providing a return on our country's investment in sending them there. Astronauts spend much of their time in space maintaining the scientific experiments of Earthbound researchers, and CASIS selects and supports those projects. Lots of the experiments aim to get us farther into space, but plenty of them rely on the ISS's unique properties — microgravity, stronger radiation and a unique vantage point of the Earth, to name just a few — to conduct experiments meant to improve technology and quality of life back home.
Once CASIS made the decision to collaborate with Marvel, Rocket and Groot were an obvious choice: They were featured in a recent, successful movie adaptation that's slated for a sequel next year, their characters zip around space getting into high jinks, and they're computer animated. Later this year, CASIS will announce an education initiative centered around Rocket and Groot, and it's presumably easier to get Bradley Cooper to record a few lines of audio than it is to put five-hours worth of green makeup on Zoe Saldana in the name of science education.
The patch, designed by Marvel cover artist Juan Doe, is undoubtedly gorgeous, and features some really cool details described in the video at the top of this post. It's a little jarring to see the Marvel logo featured so prominently on the patch of a government funded agency, but it's not as if the Walt Disney Co. was going to release their likenesses for nothing. Hopefully the initiative will indeed inspire young rapscallions to look up and dream of doing science among the stars.