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Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51-L

In the mid-1980s, NASA approached Children's Television Workshop in the interest of getting "the children of America to be more interested in [the space program]".[1] Caroll Spinney was meant to go into space on board the Space Shuttle Challenger scheduled for launch in 1986. Sequences were to be filmed with Big Bird, but the task of sending the puppet suit proved too complicated, and the educator slot was filled by Christa McAuliffe.

It was later proposed that Big Bird's teddy bear Radar be sent up instead. Norman Stiles wrote up a proposal storyline to be used on Sesame Street to coincide with the mission, where an astronaut going on the mission asks to take Radar up to help them sleep. However, this plan was ultimately rejected by NASA.[2] Elements of this story, including an extensive space training period which would have been "an integral part of the show", were used the season after Stiles left Sesame Street for an arc in which Slimey goes to the moon.

Spinney wrote about the events in his 2003 memoir, The Wisdom of Big Bird, but the material was cut by the publishers on the grounds that the story was too depressing; Challenger exploded just moments after lift-off.[3]

Material from Spinney's experience with NASA appeared in I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story.[4]

Following news outlets picking up the story during Spinney's promotional tour for The Wisdom of Big Bird, NASA issued a statement:

β€œIn 1984, NASA created the Space Flight Participant Program to select teachers, journalists, artists, and other people who could bring their unique perspective to the human spaceflight experience as a passenger on the space shuttle. A review of past documentation shows there were initial conversations with Sesame Street regarding their potential participation on a Challenger flight, but that plan was never approved.[5]”