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]". 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.
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.
- The Farscape episode "Kansas" features a plot in which Jack Crichton is scheduled to fly on Challenger, prompting John Crichton, who has time traveled to 1986, to flashback to news footage of the disaster.