Treknobabble is a continuing series of columns written by uber-Trekkie Reed Farrington about Star Trek and how it has influenced his life.
When I was in grade school, a friend of mine and I co-created a school newsletter comic strip called â€œDogs in Space.â€ I believe the main inspiration was the popularity of the Planet of the Apes movies. I’m not even sure we were aware that dogs like Laika were used in early space flight testing by the Russians. Neither of us owned a dog. I think we simply needed another animal besides apes. Dogs were easy to draw and easily recognizable by their snouts and floppy ears. I suppose we could have called the comic strip â€œPlanet of the Dogs,â€ but I think even at our young age, we didn’t want to make blatantly obvious what the source of our inspiration was.
Anyway, this Treknobabble isn’t about that comic strip. And it’s not about the 80’s film with Michael Hutchence. It wasn’t even originally supposed to be about the dogs that were used in the Russian space program, but after a bit of research, I thought I should devote a paragraph or two to these special examples of â€œman’s best friend.â€ Instead, I wanted to write about the connection between Star Trek and another of my favorite things, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts and especially Snoopy. And I’ll also be writing about Porthos, the real-life beagle that appeared in the Star Trek series, Enterprise.
Before I get into my main topics, I wanted to pay tribute to the Russian space dogs. As far as we know, no other nation has used dogs in their space program. The Russians used at least thirteen dogs with five of them giving up their lives in man’s pursuit of knowledge. Dogs were chosen because it was believed that they had the domestication and endurance to remain inactive for long periods of time. Stray dogs were â€œrecruitedâ€ because they had the further benefit of having endured harsh conditions. Besides, I can’t imagine it would have been easy to get people to volunteer their pet dogs for the space program. When I read about the training, I thought it was somewhat inhumane. And without mincing words, the berth within the space vehicles was basically a torture chamber.
When Laika was launched as the first Earth-born being to achieve orbit on Sputnik 2, the intent was that this would be a suicide mission. Her life-support system would fail after several days when the batteries ran down. Basically, Laika would suffocate although it was claimed that Laika would die painlessly. This is disturbing enough, but forty-five years after the launch, it was revealed based on sensor readings that Laika had most likely died five to seven hours into the flight from stress and overheating! I can only hope that Laika is living comfortably in doggie heaven.
Snoopy is probably the most famous character in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip. Like all dogs, Snoopy communicates through his facial expressions and body language. The great thing about Snoopy is that we are also privy to his thoughts through his thought balloons. We can easily imagine dogs having the same thoughts.
I didn’t think I would be able to find a connection between Charles Schulz’s Peanuts and Star Trek until I serendipitously came across a post in the appropriately named The AAUGH Blog. (â€œAaughâ€ is what Charlie Brown would exclaim in frustration or pain.) In a Peanuts’ strip published on February 7, 1972, Linus finds Snoopy sitting on his doghouse. He says, â€œI should think you’d get bored just sitting on a doghouse all day.â€ Snoopy’s thought bubbles read, â€œOn the contrary. Who could get bored flying the star ship ‘Enterprise’?â€ The post’s author claims that with publishing lead times, Schulz would have had to have drawn this strip before the first Star Trek convention that had occurred less than three weeks earlier. So it wasn’t a matter of Schulz drawing a strip in response to the publicity of the Star Trek convention, but rather that Schulz had an interest in Star Trek or at least was attuned to the growing popularity of Star Trek in reruns.
During the 60s, Schulz had taken great pride in his association with NASA which had unofficially adopted Snoopy as its mascot. NASA had come to Schulz after the Apollo 1 tragedy and together, they created a Silver Snoopy lapel pin safety award. For Apollo 11, the astronauts gave the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) the call sign of Snoopy while the Command Module became known as Charlie Brown. Today, there is a five-foot Snoopy statue at the Kennedy Space Center. And the Snoopy LEM is still flying in a solar orbit (assuming that a Klingon Bird-of-Prey hasn’t torpedoed it to smithereens), the only LEM given this honor.
In 2007, Comic Con issued exclusive Wacky Wobblers: Peanuts Snoopy Captain Kirk, and Peanuts Woodstock Mr. Spock (WoodSpock!).
When Rick Berman and Brannon Braga were formulating the Star Trek series Enterprise, they decided to add a dog as a regular Star Trek character. Several breeds were tested in casting sessions. Production personnel went with a beagle, its compact size probably being one of the deciding factors. I do wonder if Snoopy had been an influence since Snoopy is a beagle! Porthos was chosen for its name. Porthos was the name of one of the three musketeers in Alexandre Dumas’ novel, The Three Musketeers. No significance has ever been attributed to why Captain Archer named his dog Porthos. Porthos was played by three beagles during the series: Prada, Breezy and Windy. Coincidentally, one of the last Russian dogs in space was named Verterok which is Russian for little wind or breeze.
One has to wonder if it’s realistic to keep a beagle or any dog on a star ship. I wonder if a dog realizes the difference between being on Earth and being in outer space. It must be disappointing for a dog not to be able to stick its head out of a porthole and feel the wind on its face. A beagle is a social dog, so I can’t imagine Porthos being happy cooped up in Archer’s quarters while Archer is away. Beagles are known to howl as well when they are lonely. In one episode, we did see Archer asking Ensign Hoshi Sato to take care of Porthos during his absence, so Archer does keep Porthos in consideration. We never see any other dogs on the Enterprise. Once a dog is neutered, does it not care about being in the company of other dogs or even about being able to catch the scents of other dogs?
Adult beagles don’t need much exercise but they enjoy walks. There was an episode where we saw Archer walking in the Enterprise corridors with Porthos tagging along. Archer was conversing with Trip and walking through doorways. I must admit wondering if Porthos might wander off without Archer’s attention as beagles are oft to do. Thankfully, the end of the scene had the camera panning back down to show that Porthos was still around.
As with his human counterparts, we never did get to see where Porthos went to relieve himself. Beagles are not easy to housebreak. And even with their short hair, beagles do shed. I wonder why we didn’t see Roombas on the Enterprise. We did get to see Archer take Porthos down to a planet to allow him to run around, but I wonder if Porthos is cautious enough to realize the dangers of strange new worlds. I can only imagine what kind of contaminants that Porthos might leave behind on a planet.
Beagles are good hunting dogs with a strong sense of smell. Porthos did alert Archer to invisible intruders, so having Porthos as a watchdog was beneficial. Their gentleness and overall good nature is probably a good asset in first contact situations. It’s funny that T’Pol found Porthos’ odor to be offensive. We can only guess what a female Vulcan would smell like to Porthos!
In the new Star Trek movie, Scotty makes a reference to transporting Admiral Archer’s pet beagle. People have actually asked the writers if the beagle is indeed Porthos even though Porthos would be several centuries old in dog years by the movie’s time. The writers have answered that it’s a different beagle but the same Archer from Enterprise. So Archer must like beagles.
Besides Snoopy, I suppose I also have an affinity for Peanuts because I can relate to the loser, Charlie Brown. At the same time, I saw Captain Kirk as a role model. Could it be coincidence that both Charlie Brown and Captain Kirk wore a golden yellow tunic as their familiar uniform? (Yeah, I suppose it is. Ha ha.) I guess if I were to succinctly summarize what Peanuts and Star Trek have in common is that they both express what it means to be human although perhaps on opposite ends of the spectrum. From Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis, here are some apropos excerpts from the cover flap book description: â€œâ€¦[Schulz] daringly chose themes never before attempted in mainstream cartoons â€“ loneliness, isolation, melancholy, the unending search for love.â€ â€œâ€¦usingâ€¦a cast of memorable characters, [Schulz] portrayed the struggles that come with being awkward, imperfect, human.â€ Star Trek showed the opposite end where teamwork and reliance on our humanity could direct us towards progress and achievement. However, this gross categorization would be simplifying matters too far. In Peanuts, we get to see friendship and happiness through Snoopy and Woodstock. In Star Trek, we see human foibles personified through alien villainy. Maybe it all comes down to both having a memorable cast of characters.