When we think of space travel, we often think of astronauts—those brave individuals who venture into the unknown. However, the success of any space mission relies heavily on the countless unsung heroes working tirelessly behind the scenes. NASA, America’s premier space agency, has found a unique way to honor these individuals: the Silver Snoopy award.
The Silver Snoopy award, named after the beloved character from the Peanuts comic strip, is a special honor bestowed upon NASA employees and contractors who have made significant contributions to human flight safety or mission success. The award represents the astronauts’ personal recognition of excellence and is presented at the recipient’s workplace, with their coworkers present.
But why Snoopy? The choice of Snoopy as the mascot for the award has an interesting backstory. After the Mercury and Gemini projects, NASA wanted to create a greater awareness among its employees about the impact they had on flight safety and mission success. They needed a symbol that would be widely recognized and loved by the public.
Enter Al Chop, the director of the public affairs office for the Manned Spacecraft Center, who suggested using Snoopy, the adventurous beagle from Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip “Peanuts.” Schulz, a staunch supporter of the U.S. space program, loved the idea and even drew the image that the award pin is based on, at no cost to NASA.
The Silver Snoopy award isn’t just a certificate or a handshake. It includes a sterling silver “Silver Snoopy” lapel pin that has flown on a NASA mission, a commendation letter, and a signed, framed Silver Snoopy certificate. Also, Snoopy decals and posters are handed out to the honored individual.
But how does one earn such an honor? The criteria for consideration are quite extensive. An employee or contractor must contribute significantly beyond their normal work requirements to the development and implementation of human spaceflight programs, ensuring quality and safety. This could mean achieving specific goals that have a significant impact on a particular human spaceflight program or contributing to major cost savings. The employee could also have been instrumental in developing modifications that increase reliability, efficiency, or performance, or in developing a beneficial process improvement of significant magnitude.
The Silver Snoopy award has been a part of NASA’s tradition since 1968, when it was first awarded to some of the crew who worked on the LTA-8 project, a test version of what would become the lunar module. Since then, almost fifteen thousand people have been awarded a Silver Snoopy. However, the award is limited to no more than 1% of eligible recipients, and an individual can only receive the Silver Snoopy award once in their lifetime.
The Silver Snoopy award has a cultural impact beyond NASA’s walls. The pins have become collectibles, often fetching more than $1,000 on eBay. Adding to their appeal is the claim that each pin has been to space and back before it is awarded.
The legacy of the Silver Snoopy award was further cemented when a five-foot-tall statue of Snoopy in a spacesuit was erected outside of the Kennedy Space Center in 2009 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Snoopy’s role in the Apollo 10 mission. Each time a Silver Snoopy is awarded, it reaffirms the role of the beloved cartoon dog and the unsung heroes in NASA’s space program.
From engineers to safety inspectors, from scientists to support staff—each recipient of the Silver Snoopy award plays an integral role in the success of our journey into space. The next time you look at the night sky and marvel at the wonders of space exploration, remember that there are countless Silver Snoopy recipients who have helped make those marvels possible.
In closing, Charles M. Schulz’s son Craig was once quoted as saying that his father was thrilled to work with the space program. The elder Schulz drew an original sketch of Snoopy in a space suit, complete with helmet, scarf, and little gearbox, and from this drawing, the Silver Snoopy award was cast. Today, the award continues to honor those who work tirelessly behind the scenes, ensuring the safety and success of each space mission.
Indeed, the Silver Snoopy award is a symbol of the collective human effort and ingenuity that makes space exploration possible. It serves as a reminder that every small step on Earth enables giant leaps in space.