The U.S. Space Program – Partnerships in Innovation
This past Saturday, for the first time in nine years, the United States launched American astronauts on an American-made rocket from American soil. With the Coronavirus pandemic and protests focused on racial inequality taking center stage, the launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon a/k/a Endeavour provided a brief respite, as well as an example of innovation, ingenuity, and partnership people can accomplish by working together.
The launch of Endeavour is the first partnership of its kind between NASA and a private company (SpaceX) where the private company developed, built, and operated a space vehicle that took astronauts into space. The SpaceX Crew Dragon is not only the start of a new generation of space pods (complete will touch-screen controls!) after NASA’s retirement of the space shuttle program but a departure from NASA’s nearly 60 years of being primarily responsible for astronauts-staffed vehicles and missions.
While the NASA-SpaceX partnership is a new way of sending astronauts into space, it is one of many examples of NASA partnering with the private sector and commercial organizations in connection with the space program.
An early example of such an innovative partnership if found at another inflection point in NASA’s history. After the fire on Apollo 1 in on the launch pad in 1967 took the lives of the three astronauts aboard, NASA’s was looking to restore public confidence in the space program (like the Challenger tragedy nearly 20 years like the Apollo 1 disaster played out on live television) and worked with Charles Schulz- the creator of the Peanuts– to use his charter Snoopy as NASA’s safety mascot. This partnership has lasted for over 50 years, with Snoopy becoming synonymous with NASA’s space program from NASA’s Silver Snoopy Award, to swag, educational materials and more—the Apollo 10 crew selected Snoopy as their official mascot and named the lunar modular they would use to explore the moon, Snoopy.
As part of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the NASA-Peanuts collaboration, NASA and Peanuts Worldwide LLC renewed their partnership by signing a new Space Act Agreement (the actual agreement between NASA and Peanuts Worldwide LLC can be found here). Under the Space Act Agreement (which operates as a license agreement), NASA and Peanuts Worldwide will continue to work together using Snoopy to develop and offer educational materials and programming regarding NASA, space and science, technology engineering, and math (STEM), and of course, swag.
Building on the renewed NASA-Peanuts Worldwide collaboration and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 moon landing, last summer, NASA and Peanuts Worldwide collaborated with McDonald’s to launch (pun intended) the “Discover Space with Snoopy” Happy Meal which included STEM and space-focused children’s books and collectible characters.