A Habit of Adventure:
The History of Toys in Space

For as long as there have been children on their backs outside at night, there have been Space Toys.

The history of toys in space is an adventure dipped in a conundrum and sprinkled with jimmies of confusion. From humble and dangerous beginnings came shocking defeats and profound discoveries, leading to the mighty sprawl of toys in space that we know today. Looking back, it all seemed so very simple and straightforward.

astro-joe ad
Whether we want to admit it or not, the great odyssey of modern toys in space all began with Astro-Joe. First appearing in the backs of comic books and on Saturday morning commercials in the very early 70's , Astro-Joe sold by the millions and inspired a generation of fans (see
Alt/Cult/Obsessions: Joeheads) with his tin foil suit and shiny space accessories. Packaging clearly suggested that Astro-Joe had traveled through space and landed on real alien planets, all while looking like a champ and behaving heroically. He appealed to the explorer in all of us, and the interstellar glare of his suit and helmet burned a longing for adventure into the absorbent minds of an entire generation.

Astro-Joe's landmark successes in space were later debunked (see A Nation Shrieks: Great Marketing Lies Uncovered) when in-depth photographic analysis revealed that images allegedly showing Astro-Joe in space, being heroic, were actually taken at a secret media stage in New Jersey. This revelation, however, failed to tarnish the spirit of adventure inspired by that pioneering toy and his space-like aura. Although considered now to be a pox on the action figure world by many (see Mid-Life Psychotic Episodes: Astro-Joe and the Death of Masculinity), we must historically nod at the exponential growth of toys in space since the lift-off of Astro-Joe's enormously popular artificial career.
closeup reveals stage hand

The modern age of articulated toys in space took root in the early 1970s, when toys with space-going themes were popular but, like Astro-Joe, they existed exclusively in the frigid vacuum of marketing, not space. While many top selling toys were fashioned after popular space-faring characters, none of them had reached any closer to the stars than the average Barbie tossed into a tree by an evil brother.

But in the early 70's a group of brilliant young researchers and curious citizenry began to explore the possibility of actually sending toys into space, and a great age of plastic adventure was born.
early test pilot

The first step to the stars seemed obvious enough to everyone; the Roof. Attempts to access the roofisphere via an indoor tunnel or passage had consistently failed and many believed the Inside Passage to the Roof to be a myth. But space seemed hungry for launch, and plans developed to send a toy to the roof via some yet undetermined outdoor physical conveyance.

Also, by unanimous vote of the early planners, it was determined that this journey would begin with a descending count from a number, possibly 10, and climax in a broad proclamation of success like, "Liftoff!" or "We are GO!". Even with this degree of careful planning, early attempts to reach the roof were marbled with disaster.

The development team of upstart science and math geeks who were to eventually unlock the riddle of toy space met each other by chance one day at a swap meet and immediately formed a bond around their shared obsession to someday play among the stars.
roof team at cafe'

The Roof Team (sometimes referred to as Roof-o-nauts) consisted of (below, L-R) Algernon Haley, a gifted young robotics innovator, Edvard Ng, the youngest 3-time graduate of Toy Tech, and Quentin Mertz, a small businessman with dubious connections and a powerful thirst for adventure. This motley team conceived the first most daring attempts to reach the roofisphere.

. .

Project Ladder was the first noble effort to reach the roof but the project was scrapped when it became clear that the number of popsicle sticks required to achieve their objective would be unattainable due to budget ceilings.

Project Hydro-Lift was the next innovative scheme, which involved water pressure provided by an outdoor hose and a cone shaped hydro-sled that, according to plans, would send the pilot up to the roofisphere with a very wet and ungraceful landing. He was to make a parachute return. Two attempts resulted in as many broken limbs, and the plan was scrapped.

Project Slingshot to the Roof was a ground breaking experiment that resulted in the largest number of test pilot injuries and accidents. Simply put, the pilot was launched via slingshot into the roofisphere at an angle and velocity that was carefully determined based on various sets of shifting criteria. Lengthy testing established that the vertical thrust potential (VTP) of the slingshot was insufficient to reach much past the 2nd floor. Many brave toys were broken and maimed in the pursuit of this knowledge.
casualties of science

Project Off-the-Shed to the Roof combined the finite velocity of the slingshot with an angled trampoline installed on the roof of a nearby shed to ricochet into the roofisphere. The below drawing illustrates the basic concept of this ill-conceived plan. Worse than previous attempts, this project ended in tragedy when a brave test pilot was shattered on the wall just above the launch pad, raining his parts down on the Launch Team.
more planning

Project Catapult to the Roof was a massive and expensive undertaking involving sufficient VTP provided by a powerful custom catapult, and was to be the last attempt to hurl a toy from the ground to the roof. There was a mysterious lack of qualified test pilots when it came time to launch, inspiring Quentin Mertz to volunteer in a fit of pride. A tragic preflight accident, however, simultaneously disassembled Mertz and shot his parts over the back fence and into a territory known to be frequented by hostile dogs.
Mertz funeral

Haley and Ng were forced to halt experiments after Mertz's death and all records and photos of Project Catapult were ordered destroyed by the Ministry of Putting a Foot Down (MPFD). As the best and brightest minds reconsidered their equations they discovered that Mertz and the other brave test pilots never would have reached the roof anyway as there had been a critical error in mathematics. The team had neglected to account for the space between the ceiling of the top floor and the surface of roof, the space often called the attic. Project Roof-Or-Bust went completely bust in the mid-1970s.

But ironically, what appeared to be the critical weakness in their previous plans eventually became the solution to the challenge of getting toys into space. Many years after Mertz's death the possibility of that solution came to Dr. Edvard Ng as he napped in his hammock.

(Excerpt from STV documentary Ng: Omni-Brain)
"I was just over there, and the sun was warm on my face as I was drifting into sleep. Then, like a firecracker in my head, it came to me; the attic! We had been looking for space outside, where toys have always had trouble existing. If there was a way into space for us, it would have to be inside, where most toys are found... where we feel more at home, and where we have the most potential!"

Within the week a scientific party was organized and special visas were obtained from the local rodent authority (see Uneasy Agreements: The Complicated Sting of Truce) . After just two weeks of searching, Edvard Ng's epiphany of possibility was realized when a direct portal into deep space was discovered in the attic, behind some insulation, next to a beam.
attic portal to space

The first organized mission into this vast new toy space was as primitive as it was daring. The best and brightest scientists and technicians again set to work to built the first space module using a #10 can as a chassis and outfitted it with a hodgepodge of borrowed equipment. Christened Trinket 1, her first mission was flown by dedicated test pilot Col. Dan Bowman who was selected for his sturdy constitution, educated determination, and because the suit happened to fit him.

The log of Col. Bowman's first orbital mission, 1,000 Days in a Tin Can, Literally is still required reading at the Smallonaut Space Academy (SSA). The experimental Bubble Helmet he wore, designed by Prof. Algernon Haley, proved to be an effective protective device against the ravages of space and similar devices are still used today by the many Smallonauts who followed Col. Bowman into that space. His historic first words radioed from the other side, "...oh my gosh, it's full of toys!" may have been scripted back on Earth, but it inspired a generation of playthings to reach for the stars.
Trinket 1

After Col. Bowman's groundbreaking mission proved that action figures could play among the stars there was a great expansion of toys into space. The first exploratory missions into what was quickly becoming known as Small Space were organized by the newly created Articulated Space Administration (see ASA). These early teams were dubbed the "Drop Corps" because their missions often involved a free-fall decent into uncharted alien landscapes, and they set a distinguished tone of bravery for all Smallonauts.

The Articulated Space Administration remains the bureaucratic umbilical connecting all space-faring toys to home. The ASA was established as a regulatory body to oversee the new "space rush", with authority over travel and security for all adventurous playthings in space. The Smallonaut Space Academy (SSA) is the educational arm of the ASA and serves as a hub for wee explorers interested in this vast new frontier. The ASA maintains bases on Earth as well as in space, and their diplomatic officials represent earthly toys in various interstellar organizations.
brave smallonauts

The fabled Inside Passage to the Roof was later discovered accidentally by a group of spelunkers ascending a bathroom vent shaft. They reported that the Roof was sloped and had a scalelike surface, but other than the view it was pretty dull up there, and messy. A plaque bearing the names of the brave test pilots who died trying to reach the roofisphere was glued to the surface there during the only return trip to that once elusive region.
the roof, at last

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