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Space: The New Boomer Frontier
By the time I was 13 years old I felt that I knew why I was put on this earth -- to be an astronaut.
But how do you become an astronaut? How do rockets work? You couldn't just go to your local bookstore or library and ask for information on the space program because it just didn’t exist.
I was born on September 12, 1950, the same year movies about space travel were starting to fill the local theaters. By the time I was nearing my first decade on this planet, those films were showing up on television. There was Destination Moon which echoed the sentiments of America’s first rocket scientist himself, Werner von Braun:
"The race is on and we’d better win it because there is absolutely no way to stop an attack from outer space. The first country that can use the moon for the launching of missiles will control the earth. That, gentlemen, is the most important military fact of this century.”
It wasn’t long until B-movie producers launched their own satellite craze to cash in on the space mania, only the exploration of space meant meeting up with monsters and near death to mankind.
Space B-Movies and Collectibles
While the United States was trying to figure how to develop their new missile program, the Russians launched the first artificial Earth satellite called Sputnik 1 into an elliptical low Earth orbit on October 4, 1957. It was a 23'' diameter polished metal sphere, with four external antennae to broadcast radio pulses. It was visible all around the Earth and its radio waves were detectable by any earthly receiver.
The History of the Soviets Race for Space.
Includes photos, toys, research material and films.
During the end of October, 1957, the United States launched and tested more missiles and rockets than had been tested in any single month, and most were blowing up. What concerned the allied powers so gravely was Russia’s ability to launch the satellite, a feat which meant, in no uncertain terms, that the Soviets also had the technology to produce an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles, soon to be known as I. C. B. M.s.
The Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missie produced by the Defense Department Department
Lionel Trains Rocket & Missile Firing Car
Atlas Rocket Test 1957 Explosion
Vanguard Rocket Newsreel 1957
But how could we put a satellite or a man into space if we couldn’t make it off the launch pad? The U.S. Earth satellite program began in 1954 as a joint U.S. Army and U.S. Navy proposal, called Project Orbiter, to put a scientific satellite into orbit during the International Geophysical Year. The proposal, using a military Redstone missile, was rejected in 1955 by President in favor of the Navy's Project Vanguard, using a booster produced for civilian space launches.
The media and the world were looking at our first satellite launch as "America's answer to Sputnik". On December 6, 1957 the US Navy launched Vanguard TV-3 rocket, carrying a 1.3 kg (2.9 lbs.) satellite, from Cape Canaveral. It only reached an altitude of 1.2 meters (4 ft.), fell and exploded.
The satellite was blasted off the top of the rocket where it landed in bushes near the pad and began transmitting signals, leading to New York Journal American columnist Dorothy Kilgallen remarking "Why doesn't somebody go out there, find it, and shoot it?" The American press called it Kaputnik.
So it was time for the government to let this German scientist help get this race started. As director of the Development Operations Division of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, von Braun, with his team, had developed the Jupiter-C, a modified Redstone rocket.
The Jupiter-C successfully launched the West's first satellite, Explorer 1, on January 31, 1958. This event signaled the birth of America's space program. It was also one of the hottest selling model kits of the Redstone rocket with the Jupiter c satellite put out by the Revell model company.
The History of the Echo Satelitte & Research Information
Missile Collectables, Photos & Memorabilia
The Big Bounce 1960 presents Project Echo: The first passive communications satellite experiment. Each of the two American spacecraft, launched in 1960 and 1964, was a metalized balloon satellite acting as a passive reflector of microwave signals. Communication signals were bounced off them from one point on Earth to another
A popular catch phrase of the time was the term "Countdown". When ever you saw a rocket launch, there was always a countdown sequence of backward counting to indicate the time remaining before a launch. Due to the catchphrase's popularity, there wasn't a toy company around that didn't try to figure out a way to add the title to their product -- corresponding toy missiles that could be spring activated.
Collecting Space Age Model Kits
Ideal Toy’s Countdown live & filmed Commercial 1959 with local New York Channel 5 kid show host Fred Scott
The same year we worried about the Cold War and missile attacks, Remco’s commercials were hitting the airwaves with “Project Yankee Doodle” in 1959. Now you could have your own top secret rocket silo launcher under tinted bay doors, waiting to open and launch. Then … it’s time! Sound the alert signal! Countdown lever engaged. As the needle on the toy clock approaches zero, a launcher rises from the station doors, 3, 2, 1 ... Woosh! A two-stage Thor missile zaps across the room with rubber nose cones on top.
Your Stake in the Future 1959 Army training film looking for young men to learn missile
technology. 20 minutes
Project Yankee Doodle missile launch toy by Remco
Over in England, while American kids are enjoying English imports like The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Buccaneers, the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, warned: "Never has the threat of Soviet Communism been so great, nor the need to organize against it so urgent.” President Dwight Eisenhower took time from the golf course to admit that, "The Soviets are building up types of power that could damage us seriously.” Political hysteria quickly obliged the President to create the position of the President’s Special Assistant for Science and Technology. In April 1958, President Eisenhower delivered to the U.S. Congress a formal executive address favoring the notion of a national civilian space agency and submitted an Administrative bill to create a "National Aeronautical and Space Agency."
Marx Cape Canaveral Play Set 1959
Russia vs America in Space Race 1959 Newsreel
Astronaut John Glenn rides the Space Shuttle1998 Fox News profiles Ira Gallen's Space collection.
Seven Mercury Astronauts Press Conference 1959
At the end of October in a televised speech, Dr. James Killian, Jr., then president of MIT, was named as America’s first "missile czar" (as he was quickly dubbed by the press). While the United States and the Soviet Union squared off for their space race to the moon, American popular culture hastened to capitalize on the recent obsession with science and its newest gadget, the satellite.
My Brooklyn Space Center
My bedroom had slowly morphed into a cross between a space simulator and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, only now all my bedroom devices were controlled by a box on my deck with toggle switches, just like the ones used on the control panel of the Mercury space capsule. I also had my lamp, bedroom ceiling light, and alarm clock hooked up to this thing. When I played my 8mm film projector, reel-to-reel tape recorder, electric typewriter and television set, they each had their own toggle switch.
Toggle switches were regularly sold in hardware stores, along with Christmas lights. All the lights I had stapled to wooden panels to look like a control panel from The Time Tunnel or the Batman cave. No matter if it you were pretending to watch a launch at Cape Canaveral, or you were aboard the Jupiter Two with the Robinson family on the show Lost In Space, there were always lots of lights flashing. I also had a trusty flashlight standing by if I blew out the fuses out in the house and had to go to the basement to change the burnt-out fuse.
Cape Canaveral Florida
The main action was taking place in the space capital of the world -- Cape Canaveral, Florida -- where all the launches were taking place. During all those hours in front of the TV set with isolated shots of the space capsule atop the Redstone, Atlas, Titan and Saturn Rockets, we of course drank the official astronaut orange juice TANG while we waited.
Manned Spacecraft Center
One of the most popular places next to Disneyland was was Houston, Texas, the home of the astronauts and the Manned Spacecraft Center, where the astronauts trained. The Mission Control Room was as familiar to us Boomers as the bridge of the Starship Enterprise or Jerry Seinfeld’s living room.
Lost in Space Toys & Collectables
Batman Toys & Collectables
Time Tunnel Toys & Collectables
The earliest play set -- or maybe I should say “space simulator” -- I ever owned relating to the Project Mercury space program was my father’s leather lounge chair in the family den. What I would do is turn it on its back and make believe I was laying in those custom-made seats the astronauts would be strapped into for their ride into space. Back then watching a space launch meant waiting by the television set as Walter Cronkite told us that the astronaut was A-OK, ready to go as soon as the launch conditions was right. So if Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, and “Gordo” Cooper could lay on their backs that long so could I -- unless mom had lunch or dinner ready.
View my Space Collection of letters, books, pictures and autographs -- Coming Soon
8mm, Super 8 & 16mm
Newsreels Coming Soon
The Original Seven Mercury Astronauts Story 1959 24 minutes
Astronaut John Glenn rides the Space Shuttle1998 Fox News profiles Ira Gallens Space collection
Marshal Space Flight
I first learned about the history of rocket development
when ABC Science editor Jules Bergman was doing a
story on Werner Von Braun who was heading the Marshal Space Flight Center in Huntsville Alabama. That's where they were building the Saturn Rocket that would take astronauts to the moon.
Meanwhile back at the typewriter while doing my homework I would multi-task and check the weekly TV Guide for any specials on the space program so I could audio record a copy of the show for my files. When CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite was profiling Dr. Robert Gilruth the new head of the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, I wrote a fan letter and requested an autographed picture. I got a letter back on April 6, 1964: “Dr Gilruth has asked me to respond to your letter … we are happy to enclose the items you requested … Sincerely, Alan Shepard”. You could have blasted me off Pad Nine at the Cape without the Atlas rocket! I went running around the dining room table. I had a personally autographed photograph from the first American in space, and yes, an autographed picture of Dr. Gilruth as well.
So began my letter writing campaign asking for autographed photographs from other astronauts like John Young, M. Scott Carpenter, Thomas Stafford, and Michael Collins. John Glenn even wrote an article for my school newspaper, based on a two-page letter he sent back to me. I received a letter back from astronaut Donald K. Slayton on April 1, 1969 that thanked me for my suggestion about putting a plaque on the moon with the names of the deceased Apollo 13 astronauts, saying he would seriously consider it, which they did.
One of my favorite astronauts was Michael Collins who I sent a scrapbook I created of the newspaper and magazine articles written about his Gemini 10 flight. He surprised me with an autographed picture on November 2, 1966. After his Apollo 11 moon flight I made him another scrapbook and this time he sent me a Apollo 11 flight patch.
The popularity of astronauts & rockets found its way into toys, sneakers, trains and cereal commercials
Ked Sneakers Space Premium Toy
Billy Blast Off electric astronaut and his space base toys.
Lionel Trains Redstone rocket and space capsule car and launcher.
Cheerio Kid builds a Rocket with Sue
Coleco Jet Air Hockey
Tang Drink and Project Gemini
Mattel Tommy Burst Machine Gun and the Saucer man from Mars
Electronic Battle Star by Milton Bradley
Minute Rice Astronaut Kid with Mom in Kitchen cooking
Spaceman PEZ Dispenser
Barbie Astronaut Career Game by Mattel
If you were a 1950s Boomer going to the library to get a book on the current space program it didn’t exist, because the history was being written at the moment. Life magazine had an exclusive agreement with the Mercury and later Gemini astronauts for their life stories so I had all those magazines. The best technical stories and pictures in color of the space program from 1957 through the 60’s were the National Geographic magazines I started collecting on a regular basis. I even signed up for a monthly technical magazine called Missiles and Rockets, which kept me informed about all the companies making parts for the space program as well as our military.
Collecting Space Model kits
Collecting Space Helmets
Collecting Space, Jet and Rocket photos, journals, magazines and other memorabilia
By the late 1960s, in the wake of the Vietnam War, Hasbro sought to downplay the war theme that had initially defined "G.I. Joe". The line became known as "The Adventures of G.I. Joe". In 1970, Hasbro settled on the name "Adventure Team". The goal with this champion was to urge kids to roll play their own adventures with Hasbro’s growing line of G.I. Joe figures, accessories and action vehicles. To launch their first commercial in 1966 of their Astronaut G.I.with his Mercury Space Capsule Hasbro created an action packed story line with an excited narrator announcing The Adventures of G.I. Joe and the Sinking Capsule, starring G.I. Joe and his Action Equipment.
The idea for the commercial was based on the Project Mercury mishap during the suborbital flight of astronaut Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom aboard his space capsule the Liberty Bell 7 in 1961. The flight lasted 15 minutes 30 seconds, reached an altitude of more than 102.8 nautical miles and traveled 262.5 nautical miles downrange, landing in the Atlantic Ocean. The flight went as expected until just after splashdown, when the hatch cover, designed to release explosively in the event of an emergency, accidentally blew. Grissom was at risk of drowning, but was recovered safely. The capsule sank into the Atlantic and was not recovered until 1999.
Sub-Orbit Flights Alan Shepard & Gus Grissom
The Story of the Project Mercury's Liberty Bell Sub-orbit flight by Gus Grissom
Project Mercury Astronauts weightless flight testing
Project Mercury Centrifuge Testing
The story begins as kids role playing the adventure as the space capsule hit’s the water of the pool ending a successful mission in space. Three G.I. Joe frogmen on cool-looking orange sea sleds move to pick up the capsule with commands given by a cord being pulled on a talking G.I. Joe figure. But suddenly the capsule takes in water and sinks. So it’s time to show the Deep Sea Diver G.I. Joe who’s needed to go underwater to secure the capsule and its astronaut cargo. But after it’s rescued we learn the capsule is radioactive and the latest G.I. Crash Crew Truck is needed to wash down the capsule with its real working pump.
Collecting GI Joe
The big breakthrough in space toys, however, was the plastics revolution when toys became larger size. The first to capitalize on bigger play sets was Deluxe Reading (later to become Topper Toys) in 1960 who only distributed to supermarket chains. You would be walking over to the meat department with your mom and on the wall above would be all these large-sized play sets packaged with a plastic see-through front showing all the great pieces inside. The commercial on television for Operation X-500 and Rocket Base USA in 1960 were outstanding and it sold for only $11.88.
The silver chrome-plated toys all came armed with lots of switches to throw, lights to flash and dozens of missiles to launch. The main reason to expand to the rocket base was that it came with a mobile rocket transport and the means to launch an Atlas Rocket into space, with a Mercury Space Capsule on top. It’s 1959, as we'd click on the TV and twist the tuner dial to our favorite cartoon program and all of a sudden there’s a missile launch of an Atlas rocket. 3-2-1-0 Blastoff, only as the rocket lifts off the pad the scenes dissolves into the bedroom of a boy preparing to launch his own plastic Atlas Rocket.
Once these toys trained me to launch missiles and and Astronauts into space, it was time to practice exploring the moon with Ideal Toys moon landing vehicle, which at the times assumed that our astronauts have already landed on the moon.
There is a control panel from which all functions are controlled. The lever switch on the top left places the operating mode in either the "Astro Scope" mode or the "Space Lock" mode. When in the "Astro Scope" mode, using the blue rotary control on the lower right, you can activate the "Astro Scope" that is viewed in the window at the bottom of the conical section on the top of the toy. When activated, the "scene" as seen through the window changes (a film behind the window rotates) to show space ships flying, planets and other space objects. The "radar" in the clear dome on top of the Astro Base rotates synchronous with the scene changing. You can "kill" the space ships and planets using the red "Rocket Fire" button in the center of the control panel. When pressed, the scene stops and a rat-a-tat-tat (similar to a machine gun sound) is generated. When the button is released, the scene resumes changing.
When in the "Space Lock" mode, using the yellow rotary control on the upper right you can make the door on the right side to open and a chain hoist with a hook will deploy to pick up things. Reversing the chain hoist, you can bring things inside the Astro Base with the door closing behind the hoist when it is fully retracted. Below is a picture of the hoist lifting the clear dome that covers the astronaut cockpit.
The final feature is the remote-controlled (via a long wire) "Scout Car" with astronauts inside and two rockets mounted on either side. This "Scout Car" is seen to the right of the Astro Base. The two rockets on the rear of the car can be launched (they are spring-loaded).
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related to Space Age Pop Culture
Amazing Photographs, Ads and commercial campaigns related to the Space Age Craze
Visit Other Space Collectables Pages Still in Development
Collecting Star Wars Collectables
Collecting Space Age Model kits
Space Toys of the 1970's Coming Soon
Views some of the commercial while where still laying out the section
Star Wars Toys with Ira Gallen
I was profiled on Access Hollywood in 1998 and my Star Wars Toy Collection.