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Is Being Sesame Street's Big Bird a Fun and Safe Job?

Caroll Spinney had a chance to fly on a NASA space shuttle in the 1980s but his suit was too large. This only makes sense when you know that Spinney has played Big Bird on Sesame Street since the show premiered in 1969. His suit is his 8-foot 2-inch (2.5 m) bright yellow costume. In the 2015 documentary I Am Big Bird, the 81-year-old Spinney acknowledged that PBS and NASA had discussions in 1984 about Big Bird taking flight on the Challenger to renew interest about space among children.

NASA ended up selecting teacher Christa McAuliffe to be part of the January 1986 crew in Spinney's place, as part of the space agency's Space Flight Participant Program. The Challenger tragically exploded shortly after liftoff, killing all seven onboard. NASA did away with the Space Flight Participant Program after that, and grounded the space shuttle fleet for almost three years.

More on Big Bird and the space shuttle Challenger:

  • Disintegration of the space shuttle Challenger began after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster failed during liftoff.

  • NASA said talks involved the Big Bird character and his teddy bear, Radar.

  • Spinney says that Big Bird is actually a puppet. "My right arm is his neck, and my right hand moves his head, with my little finger controlling his eyebrows, moving them up and down to show when he’s thinking."

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