Astro-Kid: Growing Up in the Apollo Era


8mm Memories

For most people growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, 8mm motion picture film was the primary media for what we popularly called "home movies." When viewed now, even after transfer to digital form, these images seem especially archaic. Family members seem to move strangely, and glow in varying degrees of light and shadow, owing to aging film properties and slightly varying frame rates. Yet, with many folks preserving these early video moments, we can capture a few chunks of what it meant to be a kid during the Space Race. "Moon Men" was how my father labled the original 8mm film reel, so that title transferred to DVD. I really never thought I'd see these images of my childhood fascination with astronauts and spacecraft again. It brings me back to hot summers sweating in bulky spacesuits made of sweaters and work gloves, and of scrounging cardboard and foil to construct new experiments and spacecraft parts.

Join the S*T*A*R TEAM

My friend David and I received play astronaut gear from the Ideal Toys S*T*A*R (Space Travel And Reconaissance) Team collection, as Christmas gifts during 1971. Astronaut toys have always been a good seller for toymakers, but I swear it was better when you could watch live TV from the Moon, and then go out and recreate it yourself the same afternoon. The full STAR Team kit was impressive, with a utility belt & tools, mission insignia, and a cardboard spacecraft - which was too expensive a toy for our families at the time. The most visible piece was of course the space helmet, shown in the title (image: above far left). The yellow-tinted dome twisted off, and included a headset with earphones and a boom microphone. The white base had a front valve hookup for an oxygen or water hose. Instead of a life-support backpack, the STAR Team member has a "supply" tank hung from the utility belt, and on hot Missouri days, we always filled ours with drinking water. We're not wearing the yellow domes in this video. This is either because we lost one, and wanted to look consistent, or my father didn't want odd reflections while filming.

In this "historic" sequence, we are placing our country's flag in the hard-packed soil. Just like Apollo 11, we couldn't push the staff deeply enough into the dirt, and it fell over at least once during this moonwalk. How embarassing for our crew. I've visited this suburban midwestern U.S. landing site recently, and after 35 years, the flag is nowhere to be found! Little evidence for these pretend Moon landings exists! It must be a hoax!


A Knack for Realism

As nerdy young kids, we paid a lot of attention to detail when replicating Apollo gear. We're on a later Apollo "H" class mission - one of the shorter "walking" trips (annotated imaged left). Though we do have a Modularized Equipment Transport (MET), made from a grocery cart, and modeled after the tool carrier pulled-along on Apollo 14. Unlike the real crew, our S-band "umbrella" antenna is in fact an actual umbrella, with the fabric dish removed. Also note the yellow plastic Sample Return Containers (SRC) or "rock boxes" in the bottom of the cart. I am holding a pair of different lunar sampling tools (image: near left). In my right hand is a scoop, made of a plastic sandbox shovel attached to a flat wooden stick (likely a yardstick) with masking tape and elastic bands. In my left hand is a wire and tape device which I am pretty sure was meant to be a core tube drill. Obviously an Apollo astronaut could not use both tools at the same time, but a kid trying to look like a busy spaceman in front of Dad's movie camera certainly could.