NASA Photograph-courtesy of the Charles M. Schulz Museum & Research Center
BON VOYAGE: NASA secretary Jamye Flowers Coplin holds a stuffed Snoopy out for a final earthbound pat from Lt. Gen. Thomas Stafford as he prepares to embark on the Apollo 10 flight.
On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy submitted his lunar-landing program to Congress for approval, spurring the nascent NASA agency skyward. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. But Snoopy got there first. In fact, he did it twice.
Aiming to become the "first beagle on the moon" in March of 1969—at least in Charles M. Schulz's wildly popular "Peanuts" comic strip—Snoopy adorned his WW I flying ace scarf and goggles with a clear, round globe protecting him from the moon's thin atmosphere as he piloted his doghouse upward. He got there before that stupid cat next door and, with NASA's approval, he got there before Neil Armstrong. Just two months later, he and Charlie Brown actually circled the moon, playing host to astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, Eugene A. Cernan and John W. Young. Well, at least the lunar and command-service modules bearing their names did. The Charles M. Schulz Museum pays tribute to the strip's space adventures by hosting Cernan, Stafford and others on Jan. 31.
In 1969, "Peanuts" was at the zenith of its popularity, read by some 355 million people in 75 countries. Snoopy and the gang were perfectly poised, NASA felt, to help the American public rally around the space program after the disastrous 1967 Apollo 1 launch pad fire that killed astronauts Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee while tragically trapped in their seats. Thinking of the successful Smokey Bear campaign, NASA heads decided that they needed a way to extend the agency's strict safety standards to its many subcontractors and award those whose work was truly outstanding. With Schulz's enthusiastic support—he drew a new logo and service posters for the project gratis—NASA established the Silver Snoopy award, still given to space-agency service providers whose work is stellar. But Schulz's enthusiasm and his work extended further into the program.
When Apollo 10 launched on May 18, 1969, the command module was named Charlie Brown; the lunar module, Snoopy. When the two craft successfully recoupled after moon recognizance, Mission Control showed the crew a special strip Schulz had prepared depicting Snoopy kissing Charlie Brown with the thought balloon, "Smack. You're right on target, Charlie Brown!" And when the recovery team picked the crew up after their safe return, the underside of the helicopter read "Hello 'der, Charlie Brown." It was all "Peanuts," all the time for this space flight, one that exemplified the hope and vision for NASA's ambitions.
Capt. Cernan and Lt. Gen. Stafford are joined by Navy frogman Wesley T. Chesser, Navy helicopter pilot Chuck Smiley and secretary Jamye Flowers Coplin when they appear at the Schulz Museum on Saturday, Jan. 31, from 1pm to 3pm. 2301 Hardies Lane, Santa Rosa. Free. 707.579.4452.
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