On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven astronauts on board. If early plans had gone through, newsreaders would have had the extra surreal task of explaining to children that Big Bird was on board.
The beloved (but not by antivaxxers) character had early talks with NASA about joining the doomed flight to deliver communications satellites.
"I once got a letter from Nasa, asking if I would be willing to join a mission to orbit the Earth as Big Bird, to encourage kids to get interested in space," Big Bird operator Caroll Spinney revealed in the Guardian in 2015.
"There wasn’t enough room for the puppet in the end, and I was replaced by a teacher. In 1986, we took a break from filming to watch takeoff, and we all saw the ship blow apart. The six astronauts and teacher all died, and we just stood there crying."
In order to escape our own planet, we need to be moving at around 11 kilometers per second (almost 7 miles per second), or 40,270 kilometers per hour (25,000 miles per hour). In order to achieve escape velocity, we require an enormous amount of fuel to get anything to leave the planet, let alone a sizeable payload such as Big Bird.
Huge efforts are made to reduce weight, so it would be plausible to suggest that Big Bird's suit might not make the cut. However, according to NASA the idea didn't get past early stages, let alone the figuring out how to get Big Bird into a launch seat phase.
"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," the agency told ABC News.
"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."
NASA confirmed that the talks involved Big Bird bringing his teddy bear, Radar.