April 2, 2010— -- As the crew of space shuttle Discovery prepares for its trip to the International Space Station -- the launch is scheduled for Easter Monday -- the Space Race has been rekindled.
No, not that space race. I'm referring to a contest between two cartoon dogs: one, an iconic beagle loved the world over; the other, an adventurous mutt created by a child more than four decades ago.
Like most kids growing up in the 1960s, I loved the comic strip Peanuts. I also knew from an early age that I wanted to be a cartoonist. When I copied what I saw in the pages of the Omaha World-Herald, however, my father was critical of my imitations, believing that a true artist needed to be "original."
It was soon after that I responded to his concerns. "Dogie the Doggie" stood tall and wore turtlenecks and sweaters, his name possibly inspired by my father singing, "Whoopie-ti-yi yo, git along you little dogies." Soon, I was creating my own "newspaper," naming it after my new favorite dog.
When I wasn't sketching Dogie, I was drawing spaceships. The Gemini and Apollo programs were certainly big news in those days, and a love of space was a bond my father and I shared.
Although I couldn't have fully understood that the moon represented the finish line in a fierce competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, space travel piqued my imagination, allowing me to dream on paper, creating spacemen and rockets that could travel into space on my behalf.
It didn't take long for my two passions to join forces. It was in one of my editions of The Dogie the Doggie News that Dogie became the first dog to set paw on the moon.
I was content with Dogie's achievement until 1969, when I was eight years old and came upon a department store display of Snoopy-as-astronaut dolls, a sign declaring that Snoopy had made it to the moon first.
The "proof" of my homemade newspaper was no match for the department store display. Or for that matter, Charles Schulz. After all, the command module for Apollo 10, the last rehearsal for the moon landing, had been nicknamed Charlie Brown. The lunar module was called Snoopy. The astronauts on that mission also took along sketches created by Schulz.
NASA Astronaut Sends 'Greetings from Space'
Eventually, I was off on a new cartooning trajectory, one that would take me to the far less naive universe of politics. Nearly every night, it seemed, the nightly news was delivering news about Vietnam, and soon, Richard Nixon was making headlines.
I had an aunt who insisted I watch Watergate hearings with her, which I'm certain helped me better understand editorial cartoons I read in the newspaper. By the time a peanut farmer from Georgia was elected president, I was fifteen and sketching caricatures of the wide-smiling Jimmy Carter.
I drew cartoons for my high school and college newspapers, and in July 1989, exactly twenty years after the first moon landing -- the real one with humans -- I joined the Omaha World-Herald as an editorial cartoonist.
Keeping up with the news, keeping up with the negative world of politics can weigh a cartoonist down. Yet I have never lost my fascination for space travel; NASA has remained a favorite topic for my ink-stained drawing board.
In 2007, though, when I received an e-mail with a subject line that read, "Greetings from Space," the journalist in me assumed the message was spam, and I nearly deleted it.
What I didn't know was that a cartoon I had drawn about Clayton Anderson, the only Nebraska-born astronaut, had been e-mailed to him on board the International Space Station by another Nebraska native, Jeff Raikes, at the time an executive with Microsoft. Anderson had e-mailed from orbit to tell me how much he had enjoyed the cartoon.
Then, last fall, Anderson asked if I would be willing to create two cartoons that he could transport on his next shuttle flight, certifying that the drawings had flown in orbit. "Why don't you draw one you can give your newspaper," he said, "and the other for yourself." I was thrilled with the opportunity, even though I had no idea what I would draw for myself.
In the 1990s, my parents uncovered some of my old drawings, including a few of Dogie, which they gave to me. Even though I hadn't thought about him much over the years, Dogie remained loyal, waiting for me to come back to him, to rediscover him.
Could Dogie Beat Snoopy to the Moon?
It was time to repay Dogie for his patience. I would send him into space on board the shuttle Discovery. Then it occurred to me: even though Apollo 10's mission was a dry run for the Apollo 11 moon landing, Schulz's sketches only circled the moon. They didn't land.
I went to work, putting pen to paper, again dreaming of space, knowing that for now, Dogie still has a chance.
To read an excerpt of Koterba's memoir, "Inklings," click HERE.
Jeffrey Koterba is an award-winning syndicated political cartoonist. He is also the author of "Inklings," a memoir that traces his journey to become a cartoonist, and more so, to rediscover the love of his family that was there from the start.