The Spacex vacuformed moonscape from Superset 1 (above right) is clearly based on a larger example that was included with the Triang-made Johnny Astro set. Although different in size, a large number of features have clearly been taken over. Most notable is of course the identical central crater, which originally served to land a Johnny Astro Moon Probe into (a balloon with tripod undercarriage).
The British version of Johnny Astro had been in production since 1967 (winning a Toy of the Year award from the British Toy Retailers Association), and differs from the original US version by Topper Toys in colour details and having the extra moonscape (which incidentally the Spanish version marketed by Exin also has (1)).
An ingenious and wonderful toy, the Johnny Astro control system works through a fan directed at the balloon, which it holds captive through the air flowing round it and with the throttle pushing it further away or bringing it closer for controlled flight.
The Moon Probe balloon itself (the remains of an original shown above) needs to be a certain size, for which a template is provided. To make it re-usable, the balloon is held closed by a clip to which the legs are also attached, while a tiny astronaut in a transparent vacuformed capsule is attached to the clip as well. Everything has been kept as light as possible, with the legs obstructing as little of the airfow as possible.
I imagine that original issue boxes from 1967 may not mention the Toy of the Year award on the lid, but that the great majority do carry the award mention (like mine, which was made in 1970 as I discovered from the printer's code on a French battery spec leaflet inside).
To round things off, two contemporary catalogue entries for Johnny Astro and its companion, the hand-held Johnny Explorer. Nice to have the original prices, which in today's money are equivalent to £59.50 ($95.60) for Johnny Astro and £38.90 ($62.50) for Johnny Explorer (according to the retail price converter used for the Spacex prices page)
And here's Johnny Astro being demonstrated at the Brighton Toy Fair, probably in 1968, at the beginning of this British Movietone newsreel.
1) Exin also sold Scalextric slot-race sets, which was another Triang brand. Part of the Lines Bros group, it seems they imported/repackaged as well as being a manufacturer in their own right (of Tente building sets f ex). back to text