Tuesday, 12 October 2010

LIFE IMITATES ART


I've often speculated as to whether toy companies actively sought out ideas for space toys from the emergent space programme. In the early sixties, there were new ideas coming thick and fast for rockets and vehicles to put men on the moon. Naturally, due to practical constraints, a lot of these concepts never left the drawing board, let alone the launch pad.

The early NASA missions to map the surface of the moon with Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor spawned a lunar rover competition which was intended to invite engineering companies to design a vehicle to be soft landed with the Surveyor programme and by end of 1961 there were responses from at least 10 leading space firms including Space-General Corp, Sperry Rand, and RCA. The competition was quite successful, but when it was determined that the Atlas rockets could not lift the Surveyor with an added payload of a Lunar Rover, the project was discontinued.

Some of the results of the competition were displayed at the Coliseum in New York during a large exposition on space flight. Life and Time magazines gave the show good coverage and Life magazine in particular prepared a full colour spread in its 1962 space issue, shown above.

Some of these weird robot designs will appear familiar - at the back left we have the RCA 'beach ball' rover, a large inflatable sphere with a solar panel across the top. Perhaps this may have influenced Mattels Matt Mason Space Bubble ?
RCA BEACHBALL

Next along we have RCAs four legged 'Dumbo' a design picked up by japanese robot maestros, Yonezawa and turned into a tin toy in the mid sixties.

RCA DUMBO

YONEZAWA MOON EXPLORER
Next in line is the large Moonwalker by Space General Corporation - this gangly, multi limbed vehicle looks a little like the Treadwell droid from star wars. A similar robot starred in the Space Girls strip in Tina comic around this time, a large cylindrical body with jointed limbs and huge red claws. The Moonwalker technology and principle was eventually used to develop a 'walking aid' for disabled children.

HERE COME THE SPACE GIRLS - TINA COMIC

Immediately below this on the right side is the odd 'Porky the Pig' robot, made by the prolific RCA company. The barrel like body and strange arrangement of round red feet found their way into a rare kit made by Eldon for their 3d Scenic series. This was a display cased diorama style model, featuring two astronauts and their faithful 'Beetle' robot preparing a moon survey. The photo is of a built and restored kit. Also shown is an advert for the kit which would also have included a prehistoric scene and the intruiging 'Sealab' - not to be confused with the Aurora release.




RCA PORKY THE PIG
Next in line we see the GM 'doughnut' rover and the downright weird 'screw' wheeled rover. Finally the article shows the Praying Mantis at front left and the orange wheeled vehicle just behind which bears a striking resemblance to the Spacex MEV2.


So its probably fair to say that either magazines and journals provided inspiration for the toys of the space age, or as I would like to think, the designers actually attended these large shows and fairs and gazed in wonder at the amazing machines on show, before dashing back to the studio to make the fabulous toys we all know and love today.


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