There were three kinds of spacemen available in the good old days.
First and most common were the kind of spacemen that appealed to the science fiction crew. These ranged from mildly bizarre to way out types armed with everything from ray guns to swords. Here we found Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Commander Cody, Captain Video, and various astro-weirds in between.
Second were the spacemen that were what scientists thought they might be. Based on scientific speculations and tidbits of experiments from NASA, these spacemen were fitted with unusual equipment and accompanied by equally unusual accessories. Since this was coming out between the X15 trials and the Mercury space flights, it had some wild twists.
Third were spacemen based on the real thing - space men who looked like NASA astronauts. They were all clones of our favorite super-heroes, guys like Alan Shephard, Scott Carpenter and John Glenn. Most had tools, but a few sported a ray gun or zap rifle.
A later type of Spaceman - it came too late for us - was a copy of the NASA fellows who landed on the moon. Basically, the toy companies cloned miniatures of Neil and Buzz doing various tasks on the Moon. Every set had a copy of Buzz standing there with the American flag. These spacemen did not have ray guns, zap rifles, zero-gravity bazookas or crew-served ray cannons. Toy companies put out an big effort to get the new Moon-based NASA spacemen on the market.
Then we get to aliens - the bad guys - and they varied. Some were merely differently-colored spacemen, others were weird bug-eyed monsters toting strange weapons. Considering the space monster movies of the 1950s, the original alien enemy spacemen were right on the money. They didn't look like the aliens showing up since Star Trek.
Frankly, Star Trek would not have had a snowball's chance in Napalm back then. Spacemen without wild space suits, rockets and flying saucers? Not in `59, not in `62, not even in `65! To be right, you needed spacemen in space suits, big ray pistols, rocket-shaped space ships with fins, and the ubiquitous saucer-shaped space ship that rotated wildly.
Flying saucers? The kind of flying saucers - the epitome of design - was the ship that was first seen on Forbidden Planet. That same saucer reappeared many times. It was a frequent visitor to The Twilight Zone.
Forbidden Planet was a showcase of appropriate interstellar equipment. Along with the saucer ship were ray gun batteries, hand-held ray weapons and that curious character, the Robot. Robots were a big part of space. The biggest was a common type known as 'Robbie'. Robbie came in many variants, but it was basically a body like the Michelin Tire man and a glass head with blinking lights and moving parts inside. The arms were always corrugated tubed with hook hands. Robbie variants walked (actually, shuffled) on two feet or skimmed on tracks. The Robot on Lost in Space was of the Robbie type. As characters went, Robbie could be the most benevolent and bumbling of allies or the archetype of cunning villains. One thing's for sure - space was incomplete without robots.
Vehicles for spacemen varied from weird space cars and speeders to an unusual array of tracked vehicles. Imaginations ran wild. Or did they? How many of the old space vehicles had an eerie resemblance to cars on the road in recent years (1992 - 1998?)
A common source of space ground vehicles was to simply reassign military vehicles. Most common was to take a standard tracked vehicle, such as MPC's bland Armored Personnel Carrier, and mold it in non-military colors. The addition of a missile launcher or odd antennae completed its conversion to an astronaut's crater-crawler. Some conversions were more blatant - a jeep might be molded in a metallic color for use in space. A few showed imagination, as new fixtures were appended to existing vehicles. Replace a tank's turret with something "spacy", mold the whole thing in white, metallic, blue or red, and you had a "genuine" outer space ground vehicle.
Marx made a few sets for Space. Operation Moon Base included astronaut and alien figures plus a molded Moon mountain. This set was very popular, and derived heavily from the sci-fi of the times. Its s"realistic" counterpart was Cape Canaveral. With some kind of endorsement by NASA and the Air Force, Cape Canaveral was supposed to be a realistic copy of genuine space adventure. It had plenty of rockets, including those spring-fired and rubber-band-propelled, rubber-tipped projectiles which were the bane of many a housecat. There were astronauts, Air Force ground crew and assorted vehicles, launchers and even a "satellite launcher." A lithographed metal headquarters was at center stage, protected by tin lithographed chain link fences.
Others tried to get into the game. Coloring its ring hand soldiers in non-military colors, MPC replaced military weapons with space equipment: helmets, air packs and weapons. The armored personnel carried and other vehicles were adapted to space by changing the colors and a few fitting. MPC's well-known, rubber-band-powered missile launcher was included in numbers. As spacemen went, it was okay - but soldiers in space helmets and air packs aren't quite as convincing as figured molded in NASA space suits and helmets.
Glencoe recently reissued copies of the hard plastic spacemen from the late 40s and 50s. These had a separate clear plastic helmet you could pop on, and they were normally molded in bronze (actually a metallic brown), silver, gold and maroon. They included several armed space soldiers and oddest of all, a space woman toting a space infant. We loved them as much as our later NASA-type toy astronauts.
I have been trying to find a copy of an old toy set that included traditional movie monsters along with some of the sci-fi terrors of the 50s. Along with bug-eyed aliens, these movie monsters showed up in several space battles. So did large toy dinosaurs. The dinosaur was a ubiquitous monster for use in battle against space men or Army Men. Influenced by movies like Godzilla, It Came from Outer Space and The Giant Behemoth, we would occasionally indulge in battle against reptilian fiends with strange atomic powers.
There are several kinds of spacemen in the stores today. Premier among them is the Cape Canaveral set reissued by Marx. It's pricey (suggested retail $74 and change), but it has all the familiar goodies: rockets, rocket launchers, satellite launcher, tin-litho buildings and fences, etc. We hope they reissue Operation Moon Base, too!
Fishler's Space Set in a sturdy plastic box has Neil-and-Buzz type astronauts with replicas of NASA exploration vehicles. At 9.95, it was one of the best bargains going, considering all the goodies inside the box.
Glencoe Models' reissued old style spacemen are still around, and you get over 20 figures cast in brown/bronze. If you really want a traditional space war, these are the right figures for the job!
Of course, as we find more, we'll tell more - Space Information comes fast, even in the `90s!
Here's a child's eye view of Spacemen and Space Exploration, as we saw it in the late 50s and early 60s. Times gave certainly changed. We didn't foresee the realities of US - Russian joint space missions, an uninhabitable Moon or later findings about Mars. All we had were the concepts gleaned from 1950s science fiction films, popular children's spaceman TV shows, and our own convoluted understanding of world politics.. Boy, were we wrong - and oh, how glad I am that we were!
Our Mission is to go into space and set up bases on other planet. Once there, we are to defend ourselves against hostile aliens, Russian Cosmonauts and space monsters.
There are two important objectives: the Moon and Mars. We know that both these planets are inhabited by aliens, and that some of the aliens are hostile. Our mission is to build space bases on each planet. From these bases we can launch rockets. The ultimate goal of space exploration is to build bases and launch rockets!
There are several kinds of aliens. Some look like people, but wear weird space suits. The difference between people and space aliens is that some of the aliens have blue or green skin. Generally, the green ones are hostile, but blue aliens are on our side.
Bemmies, or Bug-Eyed Monsters, are aliens with big eyes, green skin and monster faces. Some of them have tails. They are the same size as a human, and most have two arms and legs. Bemmies are hostile.
Communist space men are out there to attack our bases. They are friends of Bemmies and green aliens. Just as Army Men fight Communist soldiers on Earth, so our astronauts will contend with Communist space men on the Moon and Mars.
There are several items available for space. Here's what is in the spaceman's inventory:
Space Helmets - you need these to live in space. They are better than Army helmets. There are three types of space helmets:
Spacemen need air tanks to breathe in space. These are something like scuba-duba frogman tanks. Every spacemen needs them when outside his rocket ship or flying saucer.
Since regular firearms don'ty work in space - though they might work inside a rocketship - special weapons have been developed:
Ray pistol - shoots a blast of energy, it is the Colt .45 of the astronaut.
Zap Rifle - a ray rifle that shoots long bursts, working like an astronaut's equivalent of the Tommy Gun
Ray Cannon - a big, crew served ray gun that can take out large vehicles and even space ships.
Space tank - a special tank fitted for space, with a powerful ray cannon
Only two kinds of space ships are out there - rocket ships and flying saucers. Flying saucers can land and take off faster. Rocket ships have to maneuver to land bottom-first. Rocket ships are faster than flying saucers.
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Spacemen in Action
Spacemen in Action II
Outer Space Adventure
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