HOUSTON — Buzz Lightyear has gone from being a fictional space ranger to a real space artifact.

A 30-centimeter Buzz Lightyear toy that spent 15 months orbiting the Earth on the international space station was donated March 29 to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

John Lasseter, the animator who created Buzz Lightyear and who is now the chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, handed the toy-turned-artifact to curators before an audience of museum visitors.

“I am wearing blue gloves,” Lasseter said, holding up his covered hands. “I don’t have a problem, it’s just that Buzz Lightyear is normally used to small sticky hands in life, but now that he’s been in orbit and he’s now a part of the Smithsonian, they have us wear gloves to play with him.”

Lasseter — who grew up admiring the Apollo astronauts as his heroes, so much so that he named Buzz Lightyear after one of them — said that seeing the figure fly through space brought him “full circle.”

“Today is without question one of the greatest days of my life,” Lasseter said. “I am so proud to have Buzz Lightyear be inducted into this, one of the greatest museums in the world.”

General J.R. “Jack” Dailey, director of the National Air and Space Museum, accepted the toy into the nation’s space archive.

“We are pleased to welcome Buzz Lightyear into the National Collection; very soon space shuttle Discovery — his ride to space — will join him,” Dailey said, referencing next month’s delivery of NASA’s most-flown spacecraft to the museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. “We feel that Buzz Lightyear’s popularity with young people will make him an important addition to our educational mission.”


Space-worthy child’s toy

Lasseter and NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver were present at the ceremony to certify that the Buzz Lightyear being donated was the one and the same that launched into space in May 2008 and returned to Earth 467 days later in August 2009.

But even without their vouching for the action figure, the Smithsonian’s curators could tell the difference between the space-traveled Buzz Lightyear and the thousands of identical toys sold to “Toy Story”