Detail from a space-related Peanuts strip from March 13, 1969. Courtesy of United Media via NASA.
Snoopy, the irreverent dog from the "Peanuts" comic strip, took time from his World War I dogfights as world-famous flying ace to become a world-famous astronaut for NASA's Apollo 10 mission.
The beagle now has a 5-foot-tall statue at Florida's Kennedy Space Center to commemorate the flight, which launched 40 years ago this month and arrived at the moon on May 21, 1969. That's when the Snoopy lunar module and the Charlie Brown command module entered lunar orbit. Apollo 10 paved the way for Apollo 11 to land men on the moon.
"It went down in his life as one of the all-time highlights of his career," said Craig Schulz, son of Charles Schulz, the famed American comic strip writer who died in 2000.
The elder Schulz was reportedly thrilled when NASA contacted him prior to the 1969 mission, and approved the request despite "what-if" remarks from friends who worried about a possible mission disaster.
"His comment was that if the astronauts could risk their lives, he could risk his characters," the younger Schulz told SPACE.com.
The Snoopy lunar module did not land on the moon. It was taken on the mission as a near-complete dress rehearsal for the Apollo 11 moon landing that would take place a few weeks later.
Snoopy's first foray with NASA dates back to the Apollo 1 fire which killed three astronauts in 1967. That event which Snoopy was not involved in eventually led NASA to approach Charles Schulz and ask for permission to use his character as the basis for a new safety award.
"NASA decided that they needed to come up with a safety program and wanted a mascot similar to Smokey the Bear," Craig Schulz said.
Charles Schulz then drew up a template for what has become the Silver Snoopy award pin. Each pin is flown in space on shuttle missions and presented by an astronaut to awardees who contribute to the success and safety of spaceflight operations.
Less than 1 percent of the NASA-related workforce have received the honor, which represents one of the highest and prestigious awards within the space agency and the broader industry.
Craig Schulz and the rest of the Schulz family recently donated the Snoopy statue to NASA to commemorate the Apollo anniversary. The Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., also has an exhibit detailing the Apollo 10 mission and Snoopy's space agency involvement on display through July.
As for the Snoopy lunar module, it's still flying in space the only Apollo module to ever get launched into a sun orbit.
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