When the space shuttle Discovery launches on April 5, bringing supplies and new science experiments to the International Space Station, it will also be hauling two unique pieces of cargo - cartoons drawn by Omaha World-Herald cartoonist Jeff Koterba.
As his cartoons prepare to be lifted into space, I asked Jeff about the honor and what he thinks about manned spaceflight moving forward.
How did your cartoon end up on one of NASA's final space shuttle flights?
Clayton Anderson, the only Nebraska-born astronaut, will be flying on the upcoming shuttle flight Discovery. I first "met" him in 2007 when he emailed me from the International Space Station to tell me how much he enjoyed a cartoon I had drawn about him. Since then we've kept in touch. Last fall he invited me to draw two cartoons that he could take on the the shuttle--he suggested that one cartoon be given to my newspaper, The Omaha World-Herald, and the other I could keep for myself. So the cartoon for myself has to do with Dogie the Doggie.
You wrote about Dogie the Doggie in your memoir 'Inklings'. Tell me about him.
Dogie the Doggie was my childhood answer to Snoopy. Dogie--as in "Whoopie-ti-yi-yo get along you little dogies"--was tall and brown and created in response to my father who didn't believe I should just be copying characters out of the comics pages. Eventually I had Dogie becoming the first dog on the moon, unaware that Charles Schulz had already beat me to the punch.
The shuttle mission your cartoons will fly on is one of the last four remaining space shuttle flights planned by NASA. How do you feel about the end of the Space Shuttle program?
The shuttle has been such a workhorse and has kept a U.S. presence in space for nearly three decades, so certainly I'll be sad to see it go away. And I guess I would feel a lot better if we definitely had a solid plan in place to replace it.
Do you have an opinion about Obama's proposed future for manned space exploration?
As you might guess, I'm a huge fan of space exploration...I have never bought into the argument that we must solve all of the world's ills before traveling into space. If that were the case we'd probably all still be living in caves. The direct and indirect benefits of space travel go beyond just the scientific and economic. There is a great yearning and need for humans to explore, otherwise, we will become stagnate. In learning about the universe, we learn about ourselves. If we don't have space exploration, that's like saying we might as well not have great art or great music--what's the point of being human, of being alive?
Regarding funding, I'm not opposed to private and commercial development, though I'm not sure how I would feel about the Taco Bell-Doritos-FedEx Mission to Mars.
Many cartoon fans might not know that you're also a singer, guitarist and songwriter. Interested in plunking out some toons in space?
Hey, believe me, it's exciting to live vicariously through my cartoons, but I would love to go into space myself. And yes, I'd bring a guitar. Clayton Anderson once told me that he was learning to play the guitar--there was a guitar on the shuttle during his first mission. It's probably an acoustic. They probably wouldn't have room for an amp. What's that joke? In space, no one can hear your guitar screech?
Also, I wonder what it would feel like to play guitar in zero gravity? As a songwriter, I have occasionally written songs that refer to space and space travel. I still romanticize space travel, it's still something magnificent.