“Space: the final frontier” – Those are the opening lines of every episode in the original Star Trek TV series, and one of the most accurate yet succinct descriptions of humanity’s fascination with outer space.

The cosmos have enchanted us since time immemorial, and in both the real and fictional worlds, space travel has always been seen as one of the ultimate markers of a futuristic, advanced society. Before Laika the dog was launched into orbit or Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon, there was no shortage of science fiction that imagined what space travel could look like. And even after we finally sent man to the moon, science fiction has continued to imagine new types of spacecrafts that outpace even our latest technological advancements.

Join us as we explore the evolution of spacecrafts real and fictional throughout the 20th century.

1930s: Buck Rogers Battlecruiser

Maker: Tootsie

Year of Make: 1937

Country of Origin: United States of America 

In 1928, the world was introduced to Buck Rogers – the world’s first ‘space cowboy’ and the predecessor to more modern sci-fi heroes like Han Solo and Captain Kirk. Rogers first made his debut in a novella by author Philip Francis Nowlan, as a World War I soldier who falls into a state of suspended animation and wakes up hundreds of years later in 2429AD. Rogers’ exploits quickly exploded in popularity, gaining him a syndicated comic, radio series, and several film and TV series in the decades to come. This Buck Roges Battlecruiser reflects the idea of a typical spacecraft at the time, with a plane-like tube body and pointed cone-like nose.

1950s: Dan Dare Space Ship Kit

Maker: Wilmot, Mansour & Co

Year of Make: 1950s

Country of Origin: United Kingdom 

In the 1950s, Britain gained its own answer to Buck Rogers in the form of comic strip hero Dan Dare. Unlike Rogers’ origins as a ‘normal’ man thrust into an uncertain future, we are introduced to Colonel Daniel McGregor ‘Dan’ Dare as a chief pilot of the Interplanet Space Fleet. This sci-fi setting quickly enthralled readers, resulting in a devoted following that has persisted till today. This Dan Dare Space Ship Kit was just one of the various Dan Dare merchandise sold during the franchise’s heyday, and is still highly sought after by collectors today.

1960s: Space Capsule

Maker: Horikawa

Year of Make: 1960s

Country of Origin: Japan 

The 1960s were a memorable decade for space travel, with events such as the first human spaceflight mission by Yuri Gagarin in 1961 and first successful Mars flyby in 1965. One of the real-life spacecrafts that debuted at this time was the Soyuz, as part of a series manufactured by the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. This Horikawa Space Capsule, though not a direct representation of the Soyuz, draws its visual inspiration directly from the Soyuz’s conic triangular capsule-like design. The toy even fits just one cartoon human pilot within its cockpit, just like the Soyuz.

1960s: Moon Detector

Maker: Yonezawa Toys

Year of Make: 1960s

Country of Origin: Japan

As the earth’s only natural satellite, humankind has always had a fascination with the moon. This Moon Detector from the 1960s imagines the discoveries that could be awaiting on the lunar surface – years before Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins would become the first humans to land on the moon in July 1969.

1970s: Millennium Falcon

The Millennium Falcon is arguably the most iconic spacecraft in popular culture. It first appeared in the Star Wars franchise and has become synonymous with the series thanks to the toys and memorabilia released over the years. The Falcon has a distinctive look, with a sleek and futuristic design that is instantly recognisable. It has been featured in numerous films and TV shows, and remains a popular toy and collectible amongst fans and sci-fi enthusiasts alike. While the MINT Museum of Toys does not currently have Star Wars memorabilia on display at the moment, there’s always the possibility we might curate these for a seasonal UNBOX toy exhibition in the future – so stay tuned!

The Future of Space Travel, Today

Beyond the 80s and 90s, the world of spacecrafts (both real and imagined) has continued to expand into the 21st century. From Mars Rovers that gained a widespread following through social media to the Milano of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, spacecraft look and behave completely different from what they looked like a century ago. Our imagination of space travel will also no doubt evolve as we make new advancements in technology, especially with a renewed focus on AI and other intelligent tech.

If you’re a fan of vintage toys (sci-fi or otherwise), be sure to visit the MINT Museum of Toys and explore our Level 5 Outerspace exhibition. There, you can see some of the most popular vintage toys and spacecrafts from between the 1840s to 1980s, including some of the toys mentioned above. You can also browse our blog to discover the behind-the-scenes stories of your favourite childhood toys and characters, including Aesop’s fables and sci-fi pulp magazines.

    MINT Shop Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to MINT Shop