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Astronaut Snoopy's 50-Plus Year History with NASA

Thomas P. Stafford petting Snoopy as Jayme Flowers Coplin holds him. | NASA
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Relive the excitement of man’s first steps on the moon and the long journey it took to get there with 20 new hours of out of this world programming on KCET's “Summer of Space"  Watch out for “American Experience: Chasing the Moon” and a KCET-exclusive first look at "Blue Sky Metropolis," four one-hour episodes that examine Southern California’s role in the history of aviation and aerospace. 

Reimagine the space race and upend many conventional myths on “Chasing the Moon,” a film by Robert Stone.
"Chasing the Moon" Official Trailer

Unknown to many, Snoopy has been working with NASA since the late 1950s, even before man first stepped on the moon. Space, as it turns out, is the final frontier — even for beagles.

On May 18, 1969, Apollo 10 launched from Cape Kennedy on a Saturn V rocket. The mission served as the "dress rehearsal" for Apollo 11, and its payload included a lunar module dubbed by the crew as "Snoopy" and a command module called "Charlie Brown."

The name "Snoopy" was chosen because the lunar module was sent to "snoop around" the surface of the moon looking for a safe landing place for the Apollo 11 mission. Snoopy flew within 50,000 feet (roughly 9 miles) of the moon's surface searching for the place where Apollo 11's Eagle lander would touch down shortly thereafter in the Sea of Tranquility. 

Apollo 10 was crewed by commander Thomas P. Stafford, command module pilot John W. Young and lunar module pilot Eugene A. Cernan, and Snoopy was the mission's mascot. In this photo, you can see Stafford petting the nose of a Snoopy stuffed animal as he heads to the launch pad. Holding Snoopy is Jayme Flowers Coplin, who served as secretary for L. Gordon Cooper, a Mercury-Atlas 9 and Gemini 5 astronaut who was also part of the backup crew for Apollo 10.

Snoopy/Apollo 10 mission patch | Courtesy of Peanuts Worldwide
Snoopy/Apollo 10 mission patch | Courtesy of Peanuts Worldwide
Apollo 10 crew | NASA
Apollo 10 crew | NASA
Thomas P. Stafford petting Snoopy. | NASA
Thomas P. Stafford petting Snoopy as Jayme Flowers Coplin holds him. | NASA

 Astronaut Thomas Stafford looks at a banner with Snoopy's image. | NASA
Astronaut Thomas Stafford looks at a banner with Snoopy's image. | NASA

In an interview that took place on November 2008, Rebecca Wright, NASA's Johnson Space Center History Office coordinator, asked Coplin about what led to the memorable moment. Coplin explained that the Snoopy-of-it-all was meant to be a fun prank that turned into something that would come to be associated with Apollo 10 forever.

The prank started when astronaut Cernan agreed to take something to the moon — he wasn't aware of what specifically — for Coplin. Coplin explained, "The plan was for me to stand at the door of the crew quarters as the crew was coming by with this Snoopy, and the gotcha would be on Gene Cernan that he was going to have to get this very large Snoopy in this very small pocket on the side of his spacesuit."

However, that's not how things transpired. In a last-second change to the prank's plan, Coplin was pushed into the hallway holding the Snoopy stuffed animal. 

Coplin described what led up to the iconic moment. "Stafford was right there, and he stopped briefly and patted Snoopy’s nose. That was a picture that defined that mission. I think Captain Young patted him when he went by. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Captain Cernan heading in my direction, and he was a man on a mission at that point. So, I knew that I was in trouble.

But he came, and instead of patting Snoopy on the nose, he turned the prank into a gotcha on me, because he grabbed me and Snoopy and tried to get us in the elevator. So, it ended up being that he was going to take Snoopy and me to the moon if he could. But the picture itself was just — when you see Apollo 10, that’s the one everyone thinks about. Tom Stafford still says that that is one of his, if not his favorite photo." Coplin also told Wright that Stafford continues to refer to her as "the Snoopy girl" many years later.

Snoopy's ties to the Apollo 10 missions run deeper than just a last-minute prank turned iconic moment. Apollo 10 astronauts took artwork of Charlie Brown and Snoopy (wearing his Flying Ace scarf) with them to calibrate the cameras that recorded the first-ever color TV feeds sent to Earth from space. These historical images of Snoopy and Charlie Brown are currently part of a traveling exhibition, "To the Moon: Snoopy Soars with NASA," organized by the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California.

"Eyes on the Stars" patch from 1968 | NASA
"Eyes on the Stars" patch from 1968 | NASA

While Apollo 11 enjoys a great deal of well-deserved attention, Apollo 10 was critical in making the mission as safe as possible, an invaluable contribution to human space travel that Peanuts Worldwide is celebrating this summer. Lunar module pilot Cernan even remarked, regarding Peanuts' influence on the public's memory of the mission, "No one remembers Apollo 10 — until you tell them our spacecraft were named Snoopy and Charlie Brownand they say 'Oh! I remember!'"

As the 50th anniversary celebrations are set to include Apollo 10, it's also a good time to remember the words that commander Stafford radioed to mission control, "Houston, this is Apollo 10. You can tell the world we have arrived." With artwork of Snoopy on board, too. 

The legacy of Apollo 10 and Peanuts was a big deal for the Peanuts creator himself. Craig Schulz, Charles Schulz's youngest son, a filmmaker and the producer of 2015's "The Peanuts Movie,shared, "My father once told me that when NASA selected Charlie Brown and Snoopy to be the names chosen for the modules for the Apollo 10 mission on its trip to the moon, it was the proudest moment in his career."

But Apollo 10 was not the first foray into space exploration for Snoopy. The history of the Peanuts-NASA relationship can be traced back as early as 1959 when Schulz, a fan of the space program, first added space exploration themes to his Peanuts comic strips. Schulz even gave NASA permission to use his characters as part of NASA's safety materials, and Snoopy remains the embodiment of space flight safety to this day. 

It's notable that Schulz did not profit directly from the partnership with NASA. He authorized NASA to use his characters at no cost, provided he be the only illustrator to draw Snoopy for NASA's purposes — of which there are many — including the impressive Silver Snoopy Award. 

As part of its Spaceflight Awareness Program, NASA also celebrates its employees and contractors who adhere to a strict criterion that includes, according to the organization, that its recipients: "significantly contributed to the human space flight program to ensure flight safety and mission success." Established in 1968, the Silver Snoopy award was inspired in part by the U.S. Forest Service's success with Smokey the Bear. Smokey the Bear became popular with the American public as a friendly, easy-to-recognize mascot. NASA thought correctly that Snoopy could do the same for the space program.

Silver Snoopy Pin | NASA
Silver Snoopy Pin | NASA

All Silver Snoopy lapel pins have been flown in space and are awarded to the recipient by an astronaut. Needless to say, it's considered to be an extremely high honor as less than one percent of NASA's workforce has been awarded a Silver Snoopy.  

As celebrations gear up for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Peanuts Worldwide is actually having a dual celebration for both Apollo 11 and Apollo 10 and the 50+ year history of NASA and Peanuts Worldwide, which has solidified Astronaut Snoopy as an icon, unofficial-turned-official mascot, and so much more for space travel. Peanuts Worldwide and Astronaut Snoopy have announced plans to celebrate historic achievements. 

Many of Peanuts Worldwide's celebrations are focused on Southern California, in part due to San Diego Comic-Con's (SDCC) perfect timing with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. From July 18 to 21, visitors to SDCC can take part in Snoopy's "Party Like It's 1969" event, which can be accessed both inside and outside the convention hall. Snoopy insiders report that there will be exhibits, merchandise and "surprises" available to all who stop by. 

Additionally, for those attendees who scored passes to SDCC, Peanuts Worldwide will be hosting the "International Snoopy Station" a.k.a. "ISS" located at booth #1635. Astronaut Snoopy will be there himself, along with exclusive Snoopy-Apollo merch. 

If you weren't so lucky in the Comic-Con badge queue, you can still visit the Peanuts pop-up shop at 226 Fifth Ave. in San Diego during Comic-Con. A selection of art on loan from the Charles M. Schulz Museum will be available to view as part of the SDCC extension of the "To the Moon: Snoopy Soars with NASA" exhibit. Visitors can look forward to perusing comic strips featuring Snoopy's space adventures and more. 

Snoopy space comic | Courtesy of Peanuts Worldwide
Snoopy space comic | Courtesy of Peanuts Worldwide

Peanuts also partnered with Apple TV and Ron Howard, Jeff Goldblum and Academy-Award winning director Morgan Neville to create "Peanuts in Space: Secrets of Apollo 10," which is currently available for streaming in the U.S. Written by Aaron Bergeron, the nine-minute short film follows Jeff Goldblum (as a space historian) and Ron Howard (as a producer eager to get to the bottom of a mystery) as they investigate whether Snoopy was actually the fourth crew member on Apollo 10. Other events in celebration of Peanuts and NASA's partnership are happening at NASA locations around the country, so check out NASA's website for more information.

In 2018, Peanuts and NASA signed the Space Act Agreement, which allows NASA and Peanuts Worldwide to create more entertainment and STEM-related educational programs together

So, if you love space and Snoopy, there is a lot to celebrate this summer. And when you look up at the moon and imagine humans returning to its surface, remember the accomplishments of the Apollo 10 astronauts who made the first moonwalk possible — and don't forget to thank their mascot, Astronaut Snoopy.  

Top Image: Thomas P. Stafford petting Snoopy as Jayme Flowers Coplin holds him. | NASA

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