Monday, June 14, 2004

Space: 1967

Referring back to yesterday's discussion of predictions for the year 2001 made in the Sixties and Seventies, I suppose it should be no surprise that at that time they thought space travel would be routine by the 21st century. With John F. Kennedy's pledge to set a man on the moon, the country was swept up in a literal space craze. I can remember as a child actually being able to name the astronauts: Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, and so on. Astronauts were both heroes and celebrities in those days. Now I can't name any of our current astronauts, and I don't think I am alone in that.

To gauge how enthralled the United States of America was with space in the Sixties, one need look no further than television. Nearly every sitcom, from Gilligan's Island to Bewitched, had at least one episode which touched upon outer space in some way. And then there were a few TV series that had a space theme. Star Trek and Lost in Space featured individuals in the future travelling through space. My Favorite Martian and The Invaders featured aliens from outer space, although My Favorite Martian's was benevolent, while the invaders of The Invaders, well, weren't.

Space even played a role in commercials. Entire advertising campaigns were sometimes built around space, especially for foods selected by NASA for use in their space missions. General Foods had developed Tang in 1957, but the drink did not really take off until it was used on Gemini flights in 1965. Sales shot through the roof when it was served on the first lunar mission, Apollo 11, in 1969. Naturally, commercials for Tang made no secret of it being the drink of astronauts! Pillsbury developed "Space Food Sticks" for NASA. Naturally, Pillsbury sold Space Food Sticks to the general public as well. Of course, not every food with a space theme was associated with NASA. In 1965 Quaker Mills introduced the breakfast cereal called Quisp, whose spokesman was an alien with a propeller atop his head, named, appropriately, Quisp. The cereal itself was shaped like little saucers.

Toys with a space theme were also popular in the Sixties. Probably the best known were Mattel's line of Major Matt Mason action figures. The line was quite successful for some time. Marx produced their own line of astronaut action figures under the name "Johnny Apollo." In 1968 Ideal produced a line of four battery powered robots called Zeroids. And, of course, there were a lot of other toy robots, "ray guns" and rockets.

Strangely, I don't remember motion pictures being swept up in the space craze. From the late Sixties I can only remember a few movies that dealt with space in some way shape or form: Planet of the Apes, , Marooned, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, and, of course, 2001: A Space Odyssey .

By the early 1970's, following Apollo 11, the public's fascination with space dwindled. By the mid to late Seventies, astronauts were no longer the celebrities they once were. For a time in the Sixties, however, space seemed to be on everyone's mind. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that they thought we would have a moon base, space stations, and routine space flight by 2001.

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