Let’s face it: most of humanity can say that 2020 was one of the most difficult years of our lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of us wince at the mere mention of the number. But, as is the case with almost every crisis that we’ve lived through, there are always triumphs among the challenges. Those that stand out for me are the accomplishments of the international space industry. The year 2020 marked the United States’ resurrection of human spaceflight with SpaceX, three different exploratory missions to Mars by the U.S., China and the United Arab Emirates, and the recovery of moon samples by China, and from the asteroid Ryugo by Japan. All very notable and extraordinary accomplishments despite the disadvantages and obstacles posed by the global pandemic.
The year 2021 has added to these milestones with the successful landing of NASA’s Perseverance Rover on the surface of Mars on February 18th. The excitement associated with this mission isn’t unwarranted by any means, as it may lead to the first discovery of evidence of ancient microbial life on another world. And, with its onboard helicopter, Ingenuity, it marks the first time a non-rover, non-lander vehicle has ever been sent to the red planet. And, its first of many successful flights on April 19th, 2021 marks the first time a powered, controlled flight has taken place on another world.
The toy industry notes: our fascination with space begins when we’re kids
Humanity has always been fascinated with what may be beyond our own world. By nature, we are compelled to explore and discover, pushing the limits of science and technology in the process. A fascination with space exploration lives within all of us. It is driven by our need to know more about our place in the Universe, and it typically originates for most of us in childhood, when we first learn of our vulnerable and nearly improbable existence. With all of the activity currently taking place in the international space industry, children with an interest in space exploration will have so much wonderful information to satisfy their curiosity and hunger for knowledge.
Recent initiatives in space exploration have not gone unnoticed by the toy industry. Many toy and game manufacturers have capitalized on the fascination that the current NASA and SpaceX missions have triggered in the hearts and minds of today’s kids. From educational science kits that incorporate STEM learning to replicas of the spacecraft from the aforementioned missions, there are plenty of fun, space-themed products for kids – and their parents – to get excited about.
Portraying the fantasy of space exploration in toy package design
The key to making an emotional connection with aspiring, young astronauts is to bring the drama of space exploration to life through visuals on packaging. The Luki Labs GUJO Adventure Mission Mars Rocket, a 245 piece build and play rocket ship playset designed by an aerospace engineer, does just that with its packaging. Kids get to build a 2.5-foot tall rocket with four levels, including a flight deck and engine room, as well as plastic connectors, tools and accessories and 2 astronauts with 4 interchangeable facial expressions. And all of this excitement is captured on the front panel of the package, which shows the completed rocket in orbital flight with Mars in the background. You can clearly see all 4 levels and GUJO peering through the window during its fly-by. An inset shows the rocket playset, standing upright, with a proud space explorer-wannabe sitting next to it to show scale. And a “STEM-Authenticated” logo lets parents know that this playset will provide educational value along with exciting space adventure play.
Educational Insights leveraged the popularity of space exploration from a completely different angle with their Circuit Explorer line of 3D circuit-building sets. Kids can learn the fundamentals of circuitry by following the symbols and connecting circuits on their own. The Circuit Explorer Rover set includes everything kids need to build a communication station with rotating radar dish, power station with rover charger, a powered space rover and a free-wheeling space rover, both equipped with working headlights. It also includes astronaut and robot figures and stickers to customize the builds. What’s great about the Circuit Explorer packaging is how the front panel visual takes kids directly onto the surface of another planet, while portraying the fantasy of exploring an alien world. On the Circuit Explorer Rover packaging, the planet-surface point of view shows two different rovers rapidly converging towards the viewer, with the other circuitry-based builds behind them, and a starry space background beyond the horizon. The Circuit Explorer logo and the clean black and red-orange background give this product line’s package design an upscale, techy appeal.
Who said that all the space exploration fun is just for young children? Let’s not forget that, during the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, Buffalo Games created APOLLO – a game for NASA enthusiasts both young and old that celebrates the point in our history when we succeeded in our goal to land astronauts on the lunar surface for the first time. The package design for this strategy game, inspired by real NASA and Gemini missions, is nothing less than spectacular. We’re presented with a beautifully illustrated scene from the lunar surface in a limited palette of black, white and orange. We find ourselves face-to-face with an astronaut, with the lunar module in the background. Reflected in the glass of the astronaut’s helmet is his mission partner standing in the distance, with the Earth rising above him. The large APOLLO logo with the tag line, “A Game Inspired by NASA Moon Missions” complements the dramatic visual, triggering nostalgic cues that bring us back to a time when our nation responded to President Kennedy’s challenge.
Repackaging classic games for a space-themed retailer promotion
Another way to leverage our fascination with space exploration is to develop a timely retailer promotion around it. Back in October of last year, Hasbro Gaming celebrated World Space Week with the launch of space-themed reinterpretations of three of their classic games as Target-exclusives. The “Space Capsule” collection features Monopoly Space, Battleship Outer Space and Trouble: On the Moon. Each game has been revamped with space-related storytelling, while the core strategies that we know and love remain the same. The packaging for the collection works perfectly within a common design system, with the cover for each dramatizing the space-themed game play in a fun, fantasy-based illustration. The lower left corner shows a photo of the assembled game within a planet-like circle. And, the overall background of each game’s package design features the same space illustration in tones of blue to tie the entire line together visually.
Capturing the latest Mars mission in 1:64 scale
Although it falls in line with that of all 1:64 scale Hot Wheels vehicles, the packaging for the die-cast replica of the Mars Perseverance rover is still worth noting. As to be expected, the Hot Wheels flame logo over its blue background dominates the design. But the highly-detailed rendering of the rover is powerful enough to draw the interest of space exploration fans of all ages. The Perseverance replica model, which is approximately 3 inches long and part of the Hot Wheels space-themed mini collection, was developed with the intention of reaching retail in time for kids and collectors, alike, to have it in their hands as they watched the rover’s successful landing in Jezero Crater a few short, yet unnerving minutes after its dramatic entry into the planet’s atmosphere.
Although the Mars Perseverance mission is still in its infancy (surface operations are expected to last at least one Mars year, which is about 687 Earth days), I’m still excited by all of the awe-inspiring imagery and video taken by the rover every day. Will it succeed in its mission to find evidence of past life on Mars? We all remain hopeful. One thing of which I’m absolutely certain: with all of the space exploration activity we’ve seen this year and can expect going forward, the toy industry will continue to play its role in fueling the imaginations of today’s young space enthusiasts for years to come.