Dog-Eared on the Moon?

Posted on Wed, July 10, 2019
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They say building a good relationship requires solid communication skills. When early astronauts traveled into space, and in this case, the Moon, lives depended on communications equipment that kept them in contact at all times with those stationed on Earth. Footage of the Apollo astronauts suiting up shows this cap fitting snugly over their hair and ears thanks to the Teflon fabric and elastic band securing the two sides together. The varied colors of those materials, a beige center and black sides (now faded to brown) give off the familiar appearance of the Peanuts® cartoon character, Snoopy, an unofficial mascot of the American space program. 

Neil Armstrong's Snoopy Cap from the Apollo 11 mission.

When the famous beagle took on his alter ego the Red Baron, he appeared in dozens of cartoons as the daring pilot, which inspired NASA public affairs staff to approach Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz and the cartoon’s syndication service about depicting Snoopy as an astronaut, and he became a symbol of safety at NASA. The popularity of both the cartoon strip and the space program made the relationship mutually beneficial, forever linking spaceflight and the cartoon dog.

So it is only fitting that the communications headsets became known as “Snoopy caps.” Constructed by the David Clark Company, the headsets requirements for Apollo missions included use both inside and outside the spacecraft. The company integrated headphones, microphones, wiring, and a chinstrap in a single unit for efficiency and all-around comfort for the periods of extended use expected, especially during launch and while the astronauts wore spacesuits. And as with most things in space, redundancy is built in to the communications carrier assembly too: two earphones, two microphones, and duplicate cables connecting everything. A cable bundle off one side of the unit connected the headset assembly to communications wiring either inside their spacesuits or to hardwired umbilical cords while inside the command and lunar modules. Some astronauts even had a small piece of fabric attached to the inside of the forehead section to absorb sweat, though notably Neil Armstrong was not one of those with the added feature.

Apollo 10 astronaut John Young, wearing his Snoopy cap, shows the television audience a drawing of the cartoon character the crew carried on their trip to the Moon.

Snoopy played a particularly key symbolic role during the Apollo 10 mission that set the stage for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Already embodied as a silver pin given to NASA staff for their mission contributions, the three-person crew of Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan selected the dog and his owner Charlie Brown as the nicknames for their lunar module and command module. The names fit well as the LM would “snoop” around the Moon before returning to its owner. Schulz even agreed to create a number of sketches for the crew and NASA, though later sketches of Snoopy placed inside mission checklists cannot be attributed to the famous cartoonist.  

For Snoopy, his off-planet adventures also continued, with Schulz creating comic strip adventures in space for Charlie Brown’s charismatic pet dog. While the astro-dog never really wore his own Snoopy cap, his simple fish bowl helmet protected his Red Baron cap and goggles. The Cedar Fair Entertainment Company also licensed the concept, creating a series of children’s ride areas at their network of parks titled “Planet Snoopy.” Rides within the parks frequently have a space or aviation theme with names such as “Snoopy’s Space Buggies,” “Flying Ace Aerial Chase,” and “Snoopy’s Space Race.” The fun and excitement of everyone’s favorite cartoon dog and his space adventures continues to resonate with generations now five decades removed from the first connections between NASA and the Peanuts character. 

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