Big Bird was almost a passenger on the doomed Challenger space shuttle in 1986. Caroll Spinney, who has played the Sesame Street character for 46 years, has a new documentary—I Am Big Bird—and he discussed the dark tidbit while discussing the film with Today. NASA thought that if Big Bird went into space, more kids would be interested in the space program, and though Spinney was worried about the idea, he agreed to go up in the Challenger. Ultimately, though, NASA decided Spinney "would not fit in the spacecraft" while wearing the bulky costume.
"It made my scalp crawl to think I was supposed to be on that" while watching the launch and subsequent explosion, Spinney says. He also wrote about the Challenger incident in the Guardian late last month, prompting NASA to confirm the story's accuracy Monday, NBC News reports. "In 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," the statement reads. Spinney says he was replaced on the flight with teacher Christa McAuliffe.