I had the privilege of attending some events at NASA’s Johnson Space Center with Snoopy in late April for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 10 mission. It is wonderful the invitations this famous beagle gets, and I am always happy to tag along.
There were, of course, several highlights to the long day and many of them are already posted on NASA’s social media, but here are a few of my favorite moments and some of the things I learned.
The first thing I learned is that when you take a tour, you want to have an adorable family of two handsome adults and three well behaved, gracious children with you. It certainly charms everyone and assures attention. The adorable group I was with happens to be Sparky’s granddaughter Stephanie and her family.
Secondly, I learned that the North American crew currently on the International Space Station consists of four astronauts, three of whom are on his or her first mission: Canadian David Saint-Jacques, Anne McClain and Christina Koch (scheduled for a longer stay there), and one astronaut, Nick Hague, who I believe was on his second mission.
Two Russian cosmonauts are also on board, Alexey Ovchinin and Commander Oleg Kononenko, but we did not meet them.
I think most people have seen the astronauts on the Space Station gliding through its chambers, seen space walks, and heard their voices from space, but being able to talk to the astronauts while watching them on the big screen is something I will carry with me forever.
The conversation was by way of an old-fashioned hand-set with a push-to-talk button. It seemed like a Skype call, except with four people doing somersaults for us at the request of one of the children. They were all so joyful, and it will remain a highlight of my year. I told the crew that I watch the Space Station pass over Santa Rosa when the timing is right, and I always thank them and wish them well. I am not sure who was speaking, Anne or Christina, but she acknowledged that it made them happy to think people on the ground were thinking of them. For a while now when I see the Space Station, I will also say their names.
You can watch the video of our talk on Johnson Space Center’s Facebook page (it’s also available on their other social media channels).
We also attended a panel discussion headlined by General Thomas Stafford. The Museum hosted Stafford in Santa Rosa ten years ago at the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 10, along with astronaut Gene Cernan; Captain Chuck Smiley, helicopter pilot of the recovery team; Wes Chesser, primary recovery swimmer of the recovery team; and Jamye Flowers Coplin, a NASA secretary who was photographed giving Apollo 10 astronauts a special “Snoopy” sendoff.
Also on the Johnson Space Center panel were current astronaut Randy Bresnik, Deputy Manager of the Gateway Office Lara Kearney, and Apollo era propulsion engineer Bernie Rosenbaum. The panel was moderated by Assistant Manager to Orion’s Program Office Annette Hasbrook.
There was a lot to absorb during the discussion, and it will send me back to books or the Internet to refresh my memory about important junctures in the space program. But, in general the discussion focused on the parallels between the Apollo 10 mission and modern spaceflight such as Orion, Gateway and the current mission to return to the moon.
A big take away is what a “star” General Stafford is and how fortunate our Museum visitors were to have a weekend with him ten years ago. He became an astronaut in 1962 and flew on Gemini 6, Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. He reached the rank of Lieutenant General in the U.S. Air Force and has received numerous awards for his accomplishments. Besides an amazing career, he has always been an advocate for manned space exploration and has helped secure the funds to make that happen. It was wonderful to see how revered he is by his fellow astronauts and the entire NASA establishment.
Another noteworthy happening from the day was seeing artist Kenny Scharf‘s imaginative look at Peanuts in the solar system come to life in front of Space Center Houston. Scharf is part of the Peanuts Global Artist Collective. His installation titled, Peanuts Constellation, features his space-themed Peanuts mural wrapped around a retired training mock-up of a Space Station module.
Of course, it would have been impossible to keep Snoopy away when there was media present and he was cheered on by his loving fans, including the Peanuts Collectors Club, who came out to see Kenny Scharf paint.
Snoopy will be making another appearance for the anniversary of Apollo 10 on May 18 at the Schulz Museum for our “To the Moon, Snoopy” event. At that celebration, guests will be able to view a new exhibit (opening May 15) featuring the original Silver Snoopy Award given to Sparky by NASA for his service to space flight and safety.
Sparky always said that he was very proud to have worked with NASA and to have had them choose his characters for an important space mission. I think he would have liked reliving some of those moments and would have enjoyed visiting the Johnson Space Center just as much as I did.