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Charles Schulz, creator of the comic strip Peanuts, died on February 14, 2000, after suffering a three month battle with colon cancer. The following article, which addresses the cartoonist's connection to NASA, was printed in the Houston Chronicle soon after Schulz's illness forced him to retire. It is reprinted here with permission of the author.|
No retirement for Snoopy at NASA
by Thom Marshall, Houston Chronicle, January 7, 2000
Considering Charles Schulz's retirement, this is an ideal time to get Al Chop to tell how he drafted Snoopy for a special NASA assignment.
It was back in the '60s, Chop said, just after the nation and the space program suffered the Apollo 1 disaster when three astronauts died in a fire on the launch pad.
A directive came out of Washington to appropriate NASA personnel, asking them to come up with suggestions for an incentive program to apply to the many thousands of contractors' employees who were vital to NASA projects, but who had no direct contact with the astronauts. Some way to show them some appreciation, to help them feel more a part of things.
Chop said he was, at the time, director of the public affairs office for the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. And, like an estimated 355 million other people in 75 countries, he was a fan and avid reader of Schulz's Peanuts comic strip. He especially liked the dog who often assumed a pilot's role atop the doghouse.
"Snoopy was a flier," Chop said. "No reason he couldn't become an astronaut, too."
A side job for 'Peanuts' pup
Chop's idea was to use the famous hound's likeness on a pin to be presented to individual workers in the various companies in the aerospace industry who deserved recognition for outstanding accomplishments in their jobs. The Silver Snoopy Award, it would be called.
Officials liked the idea and gave Chop the go-ahead, so he flew to New York to seek permission from United Feature Syndicate to assign Snoopy to the task.
No. The syndicate fellow Chop had to ask explained that a huge number and wide variety of requests came from people, in organizations both private and government, who wanted Snoopy to perform some special work for them.
But the Peanuts characters didn't moonlight. Appearing in the daily and Sunday strips was considered pretty much a full-time job for all of them, the syndicate fellow explained.
Well, Chop replied, that sure came as a major disappointment. And it wasn't only because Snoopy's country needed him. He hated to see the cartoon dog miss a great opportunity. Said he wasn't in any position to make guarantees, but he felt if Snoopy had been allowed to join up with NASA, and if everything went according to plan, when astronauts went to the moon, Snoopy could have gone, too.
Chop, 84, retired many years ago and is living in California now. But he remembers like it was yesterday what happened next. Even over the telephone you could tell by the tone of his voice that just thinking about it delighted him.
He said you could see the effect that the notion of Snoopy going to the moon had on the syndicate fellow.
"His eyes just sparkled," Chop said.
And he wasted no time in calling Schulz about it, and Schulz seemed receptive. So then Chop flew out to see the cartoonist and discuss the program in detail.
A true pinup hound
Not only did Schulz draw a picture of Snoopy in a manner suitable to the new moonlighting assignment, for reproduction as a pin, he also drew Snoopy for use on posters to promote the new incentive program.
Chop said about 20,000 posters were distributed to the many NASA vendors and contractors and suppliers throughout This Great Land and beyond: "Wherever there was a bulletin board and someone working on the project."
Snoopy became an important member of the NASA team. He went to the moon, too, just as Chop had predicted.
Schulz's final new Sunday strip will appear on Feb. 13. His final daily strip ran Monday in the Chronicle and about 2,600 other papers. The comic feature continues by re-running strips that first appeared in 1974.
A NASA official said Friday that Snoopy is expected to continue on with his role in the incentive program. Astronauts present the Silver Snoopy pins to aerospace workers who earn them. Several thousand have been distributed through the years.
"I think Schulz certainly deserves a lot of credit," Chop said.
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