If you were an American kid in the 1950s and 60s you were bombarded with an amazing promise: one day, when you're all grown up, you'll be able to vacation on the moon. But until then you'll have to settle for space-adventure TV shows and comic books. Unless, of course, you won this real live space simulator from 1959.
In 1959 the Kraft food company held a contest. Advertised far and wide in comic books and newspapers, kids were offered the opportunity to win space-themed prizes. Just send in a copy of the ad and an empty bag of Kraft marshmallows and you could win any number of goodies. There were telescopes, "moon cars," toy missile launchers, spaceship model kits, and giant Hammond space maps. But the real treat was the grand prize: an actual spaceship simulator built by an actual space-tech company that could fit you and three of your friends!
All you had to do was clip the entry blank, and send in your suggestion for the name of the spaceship along with a bag of Kraft marshmallows. The ad even had some suggestions for names like Moon Rocket or Buddy, though the ad assured kids that they could think of even better ones.
From the 1959 ad:
You will be the envy of every boy and girl in America — if you win this Aerojet-General space-trainer giant! So realistic, it almost seems you could fly it to the moon! Just give it the winning name, it's yours!
Sure, the telescope or even the space map might be cool to win. But everyone wanted that life-size space ship! The fact that is was manufactured by Aerojet, the same company that was working on actual rockets for NASA, made it all the more cool.
"The Kraft simulator came complete with space suits and helmets based on authentic equipment," according to Patrick Lucanio and Gary Coville in the book 1950s Rocketman TV Series and Their Fans: Cadets, Rangers, and Junior Space Men. This wasn't some toy, Kraft promised. This was the real deal. Or at least as close to the real deal as any kid could get at the time.
The simulator was built and first went on tour in 1959 before being given away in the contest. Below, a notice that the simulator was coming to the Oakland area from the September 10, 1959 Oakland Tribune.
The winner was reportedly a young girl from a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. Kids could sit behind their own control panels, twisting knobs and pushing buttons, while they watched a movie being projected in front of them from the nose cone of the simulator.
The young winner donated it to her elementary school before it was moved to the lawn of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, according to the book Space Patrol by Jean-Noel Bassior. But the simulator didn't survive for too long after that.
Amidst the Cold War fears of the 1960s, some thought the look of a giant rocket gave a bad impression in front of a professional building. It appeared to some people more like a ballistic missile than an astronaut's vessel for space-faring. The hospital administration staff had the simulator destroyed sometime between the late 60s and the early 1970s.
Kraft's Aeroject spaceship simulator is dead and buried. But the dreams of space travel live on for millions of kids around the world. Let's just hope that all those adults making promises about vacations in space can keep their promises this time. I'm not holding my breath.
Images: 1959 Kraft ad from X-Ray Delta; Newspaper announcement from the September 10, 1959 issue of the Oakland Tribune; The simulator either in front of the Missouri school or the mental health facility, undated via Weburbanist