Major Matt Mason was a Mattel toy inspired by the incredibly cartoonish space suit designed by Allyn B. "Happ" Hazard. Major Mason was the must-have toy for space-loving geeks of a certain age, and he's come out of storage for a photo shoot.
Major Mason decked out in an early space suit design, returning a tool to his planetary workshop. Note the helpfully-lighted "Explore!" screen. Screenshot from stop-motion animation of Major Mason's lunar adventures by blueflamechevelle.
Professor of astronomy Dr. William Keel at the University of Alabama dug through his childhood artifacts to revive Major Mason. Alas, the iconic egg-suit did not survive the intervening years, but a whole lot of accessory gizmos and gadgets did.
A Bubble of Protection
Gemini 7 (left) kindly lent its design to the Major's space capsule (right).
The Major's space capsule looks downright familiar, following the same basic build as Gemini 7. Project Gemini flights occurred in 1965 and 1966, predating the toy's launch and giving Mattel a piece of real technology to ground their imaginative designs.
Home Away From Home
Box advertising the wonders of a planetary space station.
Major Mason had his own moon base, full of towering screens, modular flooring, and futuristic shiny white surfaces. Despite being marketed as a "space station," the station was designed for planetary use, a home -away-from-home with expansive windows and spindly support struts.
The station was designed to accommodate the Major and three of his colour-coded closest friends: Sargent Storm a blond with a red space suit, civilian Doug Davis, a brunet with a yellow space suit, and Lieutenant Jeff Long, an African-American with a blue space suit.
Work consoles within the station are inexplicably creepy.
The kitchen sink and stovetops are accompanied by a futuristic food-dispenser, with tasty options like protein, vitamin, liquid, and mineral. The options feel vaguely reminiscent of the decidedly un-child-friendly Solent Green, producing bland nutritional tablets from unspecified source material. The kitchen also served as a one-stop health-check station, allowing our intrepid astronaut to monitor vital functions like heart, blood, lungs, vision, and reflexes.
The exploration console is a bit more obscure — yellow suit identifies that as crewmate Doug Davis. Did Major Mason have Davis on speed-dial to sooth his lonely heart? Was Davis perpetually trapped outside in his suit as punishment for some unnamed-sin? Was he kept under constant surveillance to monitor for signs of a hostile alien influencing his actions?
Flooring in Skylab (left) and in Major Mason's station (right).
The grid floors are straight out of Skylab (or, given the timing, Skylab stole the design from the toy). On Skylab, the purpose of the triangular grids was to fit astronauts' triangular shoe-cleats, allowing the crewman (they were all men) to anchor himself in any location. With a ground-based station, Major Mason would have had gravity to keep him in place, leaving the grid more fashion than function.
The Major has a metal skeleton covered in a rubber-like material. The wire frame frequently suffered from metal fatigue, giving our astronaut bad elbows, knees, and hips after even a brief history of adventure. The Major's modes of transportation range from plausible to nightmarish designs that tweaked the poor astronaut's bad knees to visible discomfort.
Terrestrial test-drives of the Apollo lunar rover (top) and Mattel's Astro Trac 2 (bottom).
The Apollo moon rover and the Major's Astro Trac 2 rover share a common thematic design of big wheels to grip rough terrain, an open cockpit to accommodate astronauts in their bulky space suits, a blocky central control console. The Major's just missing fenders, a crucial oversight considering moondust is so pervasive Apollo 17 rigged an emergency repair for their damaged fender using maps and duct tape.
Astronauts John W. Young and Charles M. Duke, Jr even join Matt Mason in bare-headed glory, taking their rover for a test-drive near the Kennedy Space Center while preparing for the Apollo 16 mission.
Other designs are decidedly less plausible.
If you harness Doctor Who's canine companion (left) to a snow globe, you get the Major's Uni-Tred and Space Bubble (right).
The Uni-Tred and Space Bubble looks like Doctor Who's robotic canine companion, K-9, towing a snow-globe. It was actually intended more as a space-aged rickshaw: one astronaut would don his space-suit to drive the caterpillar-tredded all-terrain space-dog, towing behind an unsuited astronaut in a protective bubble.
Finally, my favourite of the Major's accessories: the Space Crawler.
The Space Crawler box (left) and its contents (right).
The box-blurb claims this contraption is based on an official space program design: anyone have any idea what that was? Looking at it, this quadra-paw contraption seems less capable of crawling over craters, rocks and crevices, and more like a great way to get one leg stuck in a crack and tugging at it futilely. The only way I can see that situation resolving is by slowly starving while stranded alien wastelands, bashing at the spindly legs in ever-growing rage and frustration. And when it's working great? Keel described the ride as "comfy as slo-mo cycling on cobblestones," which seems entirely accurate to me!
Photography credit: Gemini, Skylab, and Apollo photos by NASA. Major Matt Mason photos by William Keel. Matell toy boxes by John Eaten. For more space exploration history, the development rockets at JPL was beyond bonkers, while these ladies were the earliest NASA computers.