Three anniversaries of spaceflight, each separated by at least a decade, have some sort of nexus in a comic strip that hit the newspapers just over 20 years ago.

Today marks 60 years since the launch of the first woman into space. On June 16, 1963, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova set off on the Soviet Union’s three-day Vostok 6 mission. A 26-year-old amateur skydiver, “Seagull” (as was his call sign) circled the Earth 48 times as he approached within 3 miles (5 kilometers) of Valery Bykovsky aboard Vostok 5 and collected the first data physiological, to be compared with its male counterparts.

It took another 20 years (and two days) for the United States to catch up and fly its first female astronaut. Sunday (June 18) is the 40th anniversary of Sally Ride becoming the first American woman to launch into space. A mission specialist on space shuttle Challenger’s STS-7 crew, Ride was a nationally ranked junior tennis player and physicist when she was selected with five other women to join NASA’s astronaut corps.

Related: Photo of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space

Once in orbit, Ride controlled the robotic arm to deploy and retrieve an experimental free-flight pallet, which also captured the first in-orbit “selfie” of the space shuttle orbiter itself.

Between these two milestones was the first mission to Skylab, the United States’ first space station. Next Thursday (June 22) marks the 50th anniversary of the first Orbital Workshop landing, when Pete Conrad, Joe Kerwin and Paul Weitz set a record of 28 days of living and working in space.

So what does a 2002 black and white comic have to do with these three events? It all boils down to the imagination and knowledge – or lack thereof – of Johnny Hart.

A wholesome story

In 1972, the year before Skylab was launched, NASA presented a Public Service Award to Hart as creator of the comic strip “BC” and co-creator of “The Wizard of Id.”

Like illustrator Charles Schulz, who inspired Hart to start his own strip and who lent NASA the use of Snoopy from “Peanuts” to serve as a security mascot, Hart did the same, with characters from “BC ” appearing in the Apollo 12 flight plan and on Apollo 13 press materials. Hart also drew original “BC” and “Wizard of Id” style characters to promote NASA’s crew health program.

One such poster shows two astronauts (resembling “BC” cavemen) standing in their clothing room when “Grog,” an even more primitive hair-covered human enters, yelling only his name. Says the astronaut standing closest to Grog, “I thought secondary contacts weren’t allowed here,” referring to NASA’s term for family members and others who have been removed more than once. “You tell him,” replies the other.

With your permission, NASA has used the comic book characters “BC” and Johnny Hart’s “The Wizard of Id” to promote crew health and on program items like this Skylab decal. (Image credit: NASA/Creators Syndicate/

Hart’s connection to NASA continued all the way to Skylab, with ‘The Wizard’ from ‘Id’, along with ‘Sir Rodney’, a knight, being used on decals and other documents to draw attention to the work being done at the workshop orbital.

By the time Ride and the first other female astronauts arrived at NASA in 1978, Hart’s characters had fallen out of use at NASA (just as Skylab would fall from orbit the following year). In fact, it wouldn’t be until 15 years after Ride left NASA that she made contact with Johnny, an anthropomorphic ant from “BC”

First forgotten

The “BC” comic which aired on September 25, 2002, opens with an exterior scene showing a small cabin-like building with a “Skool” sign and an American flag flying from a pole . From inside the building someone asks, “Who was the first woman in space?” to which comes a response, “Alice Kramden!”

Moving on to the second panel, the view changes to inside the hut, revealing that it is a school for ants and the original questioner had been Johnny’s teacher. “Wrong Johnny, it was Sally Ride!”

The comic ends outside the school again, with the teacher adding, “…but guess what, kid.”

(For those who missed the punchline, Alice Kramden, played by actress Audrey Meadows on the 1955 sitcom “The Honeymooners,” was the wife of bus driver Ralph Kramden [Jackie Gleason]who often threatened her with “One of these days, Alice, one of these days… Bang! Zoom! You’re going to the moon!”)

Mastroianni and Hart’s September 25, 2002 comic “BC” asked the question, “Who was the first woman in space?” The answer came as a surprise to space enthusiasts. (Image credit: Creators Syndicate)

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By Admin

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