How a cartoon beagle helped popularize NASA’s Apollo program.

A Snoopy doll sold in 1969 wears a spacesuit and carries a flight safety pack, reflecting his role as a mascot for NASA’s Space Flight Awareness program.

Only one astronaut has landed on the moon, traveled to the International Space Station, and blasted into orbit on the space shuttle. On top of that, in 2022, he hitched a ride aboard the record-breaking flight of Artemis I, which traveled an astronomical 1.4 million miles.

The astronaut? Snoopy. The beloved beagle from the Peanuts comic strip has a career in space that began more than 55 years ago and shows no sign of slowing down. 

Snoopy joined NASA in 1968, as a mascot for the Manned Flight Awareness program (now called the Space Flight Awareness program), which was established in 1963. “Within a couple of years of the first human spaceflights, NASA was already working on this internal program to remind anyone working on human spaceflight that people’s lives depended on the quality of their work,” says Margaret Weitekamp, a curator who oversees the social and cultural history of spaceflight collection at the National Air and Space Museum. “They distributed posters, often featuring images of the astronauts, to keep workers focused on the stakes involved in creating material for human spaceflights.” The safety awareness program took on renewed urgency after the Apollo 1 fire killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. “The loss of the three astronauts’ lives in January 1967 was a devastating blow for NASA and the Apollo program,” says Weitekamp. “Recovering from that required a complete reevaluation of the systems, spacecraft, and plans for the lunar landings. NASA flight director Chris Kraft said publicly that without the changes that were made in the aftermath of the fire, the U.S. would not have gotten to the moon.”

Charles M. Schulz in his Sebastopol, California studio.

Snoopy seemed an ideal choice for a mascot to boost morale and visibility for the renewed effort. He had already exhibited the “right stuff” by portraying a daring Olympic skier, a rough-and-tough hockey player, and, of course, a valiant World War I flying ace.

“NASA’s Al Chop [deputy public affairs officer at the Manned Spacecraft Center, now known as the Johnson Space Center] was the one who reached out to Schulz to see about using Snoopy as a symbol for the space program,” says Benjamin Clark, curator at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California. “Schulz was incredibly flattered to be asked. He so respected what was going on with the space program and was thrilled to be part of it. He donated the drawings free of charge.”

Schulz created a series of comic strips depicting Snoopy as an astronaut, which were published from March 8–15, 1969.

“The addition to the campaign of Snoopy as a character has been compared to the U.S. Forest Service’s successes with Smokey Bear or Woodsy Owl,” says Weitekamp. One of the courageous beagle’s most visible contributions has been the Silver Snoopy Award, which began in 1968. “The Silver Snoopy pin is really unique in that an astronaut presents the award,” says Maureen O’Brien, manager of strategic alliances at NASA. “This is a way for them to recognize members of the NASA workforce and contractors who have made valuable contributions to safety and mission assurance programs.”

Since 1968, the coveted Silver Snoopy has been awarded by astronauts to members of the NASA workforce who have made valuable contributions to safety and mission assurance programs.

“The high esteem of a Silver Snoopy award comes from its stringent requirements,” says Weitekamp. “A person can be recognized with a Silver Snoopy only once. It cannot be awarded in recognition of a retirement or other such cause. A Silver Snoopy is only awarded in recognition of specific tasks or achievements that supported and improved a spaceflight. Those who have them are justifiably proud of them.”

After Snoopy was recruited by NASA, the peppy pooch was everywhere. Spacesuited Snoopys appeared on scores of motivational posters reminding NASA employees that “mission success is in your hands.” Apollo astronauts even began referring to their communications headgear as the “Snoopy cap” because it resembled the aviator helmet worn by the canine as he scoured the skies for the Red Baron.

Snoopy appeared on multiple posters that sought to boost morale and a culture of flight safety within NASA.

It wasn’t long before Snoopy made his first spaceflight. In 1968, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders took Silver Snoopy lapel pins with them on Apollo 8, the first crewed mission to leave Earth’s orbit and the first crewed mission to enter lunar orbit. The tradition has continued over the years. “Snoopy has been to space quite a few times,” says O’Brien. “He was on Columbia STS-32 in 1990 and the space station in 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.”

Snoopy’s space sojourns are chronicled in a special traveling exhibit sponsored by the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center. The story, titled “To the Moon: Snoopy Soars with NASA,” begins in 1959, when a Peanuts comic strip depicted the derring-do dog staring at the moon and wondering if any canines lived there. Ten years later, the World War I ace announced plans to become the “first beagle on the moon.”

“Schulz had Snoopy go to the moon in a series of strips for about a week in March 1969,” says Clark. “He had a bit of pushback from his syndicate. They said, ‘The astronauts haven’t been up there yet. What if something happens?’ He replied, ‘My character can go to the moon. It’s fine.’”

Snoopy again made a trek to the moon in May 1969, when Apollo 10 blasted off with astronauts Gene Cernan, John Young, and Thomas Stafford for the final dress rehearsal before the actual landing in July. The lunar module, which flew to within 50,000 feet of the moon’s surface, was christened “Snoopy.” It seemed only right because its mission was to “snoop” around. In keeping with the Peanuts theme, the call-sign for the command and service module was Snoopy’s beleaguered owner, Charlie Brown.

“We realized that, by naming our spacecraft Charlie Brown and Snoopy, we could give the Snoopy Award a little more pizzazz, a little bit more exposure, and make it more meaningful,” Cernan later recalled.

In addition to the Snoopy pins, Apollo 10 also carried color illustrations of the two characters: Charlie Brown wearing a spacesuit on a green background and Snoopy on a piece of red posterboard in his flying gear. They had been drawn not by Schulz, but by graphic artist Al Stevens, a NASA contractor at Johnson Space Center who had also designed Apollo mission patches. The drawings were used to calibrate the onboard cameras so that the first color images from space could be beamed back to television sets on Earth. It had been the idea of Stafford, says space collector Larry McGlynn, who now owns the Charlie Brown painting. “Tom was driving to get color TV aboard Apollo 10,” says McGlynn. “He understood the value of the public connecting with the astronauts on the way to the moon.”

NASA engineer Ernie Reyes’ Snoopy doodles found their way onto the cuff checklists worn by Apollo astronauts.

NASA’s most famous in-house Snoopy artist was Ernie Reyes, a beloved engineer who was at the space agency for 36 years. While working as Apollo’s pre-flight operations manager, Reyes started doodling Snoopy cartoons on the daily schedules, which quickly became prized by the NASA staff. “It was a cute thing, it was a funny thing, and it got to the point that the associate administrator at NASA headquarters wanted, on a daily basis, to get his Snoopy cartoon,” Reyes recalled in a 1998 interview with a NASA historian.

Snoopy and Charlie Brown occupied a prominent place at mission control during the Apollo 10 mission.

The cartoons later found their way on to the cuff checklists worn by Apollo astronauts. The checklists were the detailed to-do lists for the astronauts on the moon (see A Closer Look: “Astronaut Cheat Sheet” on p. 4 of the Winter 2022 issue). Reyes’ doodles added some levity: a spacesuit-clad Snoopy was depicted, for example, floundering on the lunar surface. The checklist for Apollo 17, the program’s last moon mission, shows an image of Snoopy hopping forward and captioned: “The beginning not the end.” The Apollo 17 preliminary science report, published in 1973, includes a map of the lunar surface that reveals a small crater named Snoopy. It is located near the 1972 landing site, which is in the Taurus-Littrow valley along the eastern edge of the Mare Serenitatis plain.

In the years since, Snoopy awards, toys, and figures continue to rocket into space. In 2019, the beagle floated in the International Space Station with astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir. On live television, the trio wished the United States a Happy Thanksgiving while introducing a new balloon for the Macy’s parade: Snoopy wearing an orange NASA spacesuit.

In 2022, Snoopy returned to space wearing a custom flightsuit aboard Artemis I, where he served as a zero-G indicator.

As Artemis I journeyed to the moon in November 2022, Snoopy was an astronaut inside the space capsule, where he served an important function: the zero G indicator. Millions of people watched as TV cameras showed a Snoopy plush toy floating in the spacecraft. “NASA made a custom flightsuit for Snoopy from the exact materials used for humans in their spacesuits,” says Clark. “The detail was incredible.”

So, will Snoopy ride along on Artemis II when astronauts return to the moon later this year? That’s still up in the air. At the moment, NASA’s contract with Peanuts Worldwide is being renegotiated, but both sides are hopeful an agreement can be reached. “We need to confirm it, but I would not be surprised if there were at least Silver Snoopys on the mission,” says O’Brien.

While Snoopy in space has thrilled generations of Americans, no one was more excited than his creator. Of all the fame resulting from his comic strip, Charles Schulz was proudest of his cosmic canine’s “giant leap” on the lunar surface. “This is because cartoonists have been sending their characters into space for years in their stories,” he said in 1977, “but mine was the first character who really went to the moon.”

Dave Kindy writes about aviation, space, military history, and other topics. His article about the record-setting altitude exploits of Joseph Kittinger and Project Excelsior appeared in the Summer 2023 issue.

This article is from the Winter 2024 issue of Air & Space Quarterly, the National Air and Space Museum's signature magazine that explores topics in aviation and space, from the earliest moments of flight to today. Explore the full issue.

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