The "Astro Commander" walkie-talkie
(Also known as the "Space Commander")

       Analog Dial             Page 1         Page 2     Page 3    

Space Commander Walkie-Talkie
Lafayette Space Commander

In 1972 I attempted to join the CB radio "community" with a six dollar walkie-talkie. Three of my friends, Joe Jones, Jimmy Nolen and Charlie Keenan had CB base stations, and through these base stations they were connected to a network of (sometimes crazy) people of like mind and talents.

Alas, the radio I armed myself with failed me miserably. I did attend two "Pizza Bracks" with Charlie and met about ten people with CB radios and walkie-talkies who were very interesting. Most notable was a kid named "Hair" who seemed to be the smartest guy there. His real name is Brian Freedman, a.k.a WB3DPL. His nickname was "Hair" because he had long hair.

I'm not sure what a "Pizza Brack" was. I went to somebody's house with Charlie, probably Brian's, but I don't remember having any pizza. I think we got there late both times and the pizza was gone. "Pizza Brack" seems to be a made-up word, at any rate. Perhaps "brack" was actually the word "klatch" and Charlie misheard or mispronounced it. We'll never know.

The walkie-talkie I bought, though completely useless at the time, is a fond memory. There is it below, on the left.

The Lafayette model HA70C "Astro Commander" Walkie Talkie. This picture is from the Lafayette Spring 1969 catalog.
Notice that in the top picture it is called "Space Commander but in this picture it's called "Astro Commander."

Here's my Lafayette Astro Commander HA-70C sitting on top of my Lafayette KT-135 in 1972.

    Notice the alligator clip on the antenna. This was connected to a wire that went up on the roof which was used as an antenna for the KT-135. The premise of the long wire antenna on the Astro Commander was that I'd be able to talk to my friends, Charlie Keenan and Joe Jones, who had CB base stations. They spent a bundle of dough for their rigs, but I, being of poorer means, would be able to emulate them for only $5.99 plus tax. The fools!

    I didn't know anything about antennas, CB radios or cheap walkie-talkies. The wire going to the roof probably did more harm than good. It would have had to be, by sheer coincidence, exactly 18 feet or exactly 36 feet long to be the correct length. I did know that Charlie and Joe used coaxial cable to connect their roof top antennas to their base stations and I suspected there was more than likely a good reason for this, otherwise they would have used lamp cord.

    I couldn't hear Joe but I was able to hear Charlie. Charlie, however, couldn't hear me. I needed more power. The way I got more power was to attach 10 nine volt batteries connected in parallel to the back of the walkie-talkie and wrap them up with electrical tape.

    Charlie Keenan had made friends with the manager/salesman of the local Radio Shack store in the Cheltenham Shopping Center. His name was Steve. Radio Shack had "The Battery Of The Month Club". You got a little card that got you a free battery each month. You picked out a battery, your card got punched, and off you went. Steve was really cool. He didn't mind me picking up ten cards, picking out ten batteries, and then punching out the ten cards. He actually encouraged me when I told him what I needed them for, though he told me to never say "Lafayette" in his presence.

    With this huge boost in power I called Charlie on the telephone and told him I was about to transmit to him on channel 7. He still couldn't hear me. Not only couldn't I talk to Charlie, I never spoke with ANYBODY over the darn thing. The only way I knew it even worked was that I could pick it up on the KT-135 while in the same room with it.

    It was actually a very dumb idea to try to push ten times the current through the walkie-talkie, but it wasn't my idea, it was Charlie's. Thankfully, the circuitry prevented the battery pack I made from causing the walkie-talkie to die in a little puff of smoke.

Astro Commander
Now, after 44 years, I've acquired another Astro Commander. Four, in fact. A pair of HA-70Cs, and a pair of HA-70ds.
Space Commander
Space Commander
Space Commander
Now let's have a look at the box. The first thing you notice is that the walkie-talkie is called the "Space Commander," not "Astro Commander." The Space Commander (or Astro Commander) was the only Lafayette walkie-talkie that had this degree of artwork on the box. Since the box never appeared in the catalogs it was probably meant to appeal to kids who were with their parents in the Lafayette store.
Lafayette Space Commander
Lafayette Astro Commander

The HA-70c and the HA-70d were both called "Space Commander" on the box but "Astro Commander" in the catalog. This may have been because a company named REMCO had a set of walkie talkies named "Space Commander". The actual walkie-talkie doesn't have a name on it, so they could call it anything they wanted.

The neatest thing about the box is that the scene wraps all the way around it. So when you turn it in your hand you get THIS.

In this scene a Gemini Capsule has somehow made it all the way to the moon. There are three astronauts, and the Gemini only held two, so we can imagine a second capsule out of the picture. The astronaut in the foreground is talking into his HA-70, but not to the other two guys, so he must be talking to his crewmate in the unseen capsule. He's probably pointing out that the heat shield on a Gemini capsule wasn't designed for a re-entry into Earth's atmosphere from the moon at 25,000 MPH, but what the heck. Who cares?

Space Commander
Updated artwork. This is actually a painting of Ed White, but now he's at the moon holding an Astro Commander.
In 1961 there were indeed plans to send a manned Gemini capsule into orbit around the moon. This was to happen in 1965. The Space Commander first appeared in the Lafayette catalog in 1967, so even though the box art may at first seem ludicrous, it was based on an actual plan for Gemini 15. The Gemini missions ended with Gemini 12, and it was Apollo 8 which went into orbit around the moon in December of 1968.

Lafayette Astro Commander
An amazing phenomenon is also happening here.
The astronaut's voice is traveling out of his helmet, through the vacuum of space, and into his Space Commander!
Or perhaps he lifted his visor to talk into the walkie-talkie and now he's dead and frozen in that position.

Apollo Space Phone walkie talkie
You could orbit the moon with a Lafayette Space Commander, but to land on the moon you needed a pair of "Apollo Space Phones." Like the Space Commander, the astronaut's voice could exit his helmet, travel through the vacuum of space, and enter the walkie-talkie. Why is there an exhaust plume coming from the Command Module in this picture??
Apollo Space Phone box art
The far astronaut waves frantically as he screams, "He's leaving without us!!" They brought low powered walkie-talkies that don't need a CB license, but now they're are out of range with the guy in the Command Module. Stranded and left to die, they realize you don't need a CB license while on the Moon, and besides, most people never bothered to get one anyway.

Apollo Space Phones
Apollo Space Phones. Rugged Walkie Talkies for use on the surface of Earth's moon.

Space Ranger walkie-talkie
In spite of the name and the kid with the space helmet, you cannot go into space with a set of "Space Ranger" walkie-talkies. The name and the drawing are misleading, but it says right on the box that these are for "around-the-neighborhood" fun. You had to be very careful when selecting which walkie-talkie to purchase if you wished to go into outer space.

REMCO Space Commander
Shown here is a "REMCO SPACE COMMANDER walkie talkies" box from the 1950s. These are not radios, they are connected to each other with a piece of red twine, though it doesn't show this on the box. The twine was 15 feet long, the range of the "walkie talkies." The EXACT range, since the twine had to be taut. The advertisements stated they operated on the "tight string principal" and the included string was a "reel of communication line."

Unlike the Lafayette Space Commander, with these you don't just go into orbit around the Earth's moon, you actually land on a moon of SATURN! In the 1950s, the price for a set of two was 69
ยข. Today a set with the box costs $90.00 to $170.00, depending on the condition.

Archer Space Patrol
Here is the Radio Shack Space Patrol walkie-talkie that was available around the same time Lafayette sold the Space Commander. Do you see anything "spacey" about it? Can you orbit or land on the Earth's moon with one? No!! You can lock on the push-to-talk switch, which doesn't sound very smart considering they ran on a 9 volt carbon battery.

If you can't go into space with one of these, how are you supposed to "patrol" space? What bullsh*t! What liars!

Nice try Radio Shack, you serpents of deceit! How many kids did you dishearten with the false promise of patrolling space with your stupid walkie-talkie? How many weeping kids put their Archer Space Patrol under their dad's car tire right before he left for work, then listened to the crunching as he pulled away?

They made several other versions of the "Space Patrol" including a "Senior" model and a "Micro" model. One even had a built in AM radio receiver.

Back to the Future Walkie Talkie
Back to the Future Walkie Talkie
The Archer Space Patrol "Micro" Model 60-4014 became popular after it was used in Back To The Future Part II, in 1989. They are now collector's items. The last year the Space Patrol was sold was 1988. Radio Shack had their walkie-talkie in the movie, but stopped selling them before the movie was released. Genius marketing decision!!
Archer Space Patrol
Artwork on the top of the model 60-4014 blister pack. Do you see anyone in space? Are they not called Space Patrol ?
Radio Shack Space Patrol in Space
If they tried to patrol space without a spacesuit, this would happen.
The Micro Space Patrol transmitted in the 49 MHz band instead of the 27 MHz band, so you couldn't even use one to talk to an older Space Patrol, let alone a Space Commander. The RF input power was 70 milliwatts, which is worse than the Lafayette Space Commander.

Merit Space Patrol
Compare the Radio Shack fake "Space Patrol" walkie-talkies with these real "Space Patrol" walkie-talkies, which can be used while ON THE MOON! The  communication line can plainly be seen in the photo. When you consider the circumference of the Earth, the communication line must be at least 40,000 miles long! How did they fit it in the box?
Space Patrol walkie-talkie
The real Space Patrol walkie-talkies have "space-signal intake vanes" on the backs. Careful analysis has determined that this is an actual photograph of a Space Patrolman on a moon of Saturn. It's obvious. Otherwise, how would they have taken the picture?

Since these seem to be duplicates of the REMCO Space Commanders, I would guess the Space Patrolman is on the phone to his Space Commander.
Space Patrol walkie talkie
These were made by Merit Toys and Games in England. In addition to space signal intake vanes, they had high frequency amplifiers, stabiliser bars, and ATOMIC BOOSTER RINGS. Lafayette walkie talkies had no such features.
Merit Space Patrol
The communication line seems to be laying on the ground. Since these operate on the "tight string principal," the astronaut is out of touch with whoever is (was) holding the other unit.
Space Patrol monster
Why is the line slack? According to every sci-fi movie ever made, outer space and other planets are full of monsters that eat people. I shudder to think of the quivering and dismembered hand still holding the other Space Patrol.

Back to the Lafayette Space Commander...
Astro Commander
Let's open the HA-70d box! We've got a walkie-talkie, manual and warranty card for a 90 day warranty.
(Unfortunately, the HA-70C version didn't have a warranty card or manual when I got them.)

Let's look in the manual. This is the very first sentence.
That sounds cool!!! It's authentic! It's used by the armed forces!! But... it says it's similar to the walkie-talkies used by the armed forces. Using that logic, a balsa wood airplane is similar to a Stealth Bomber used by the armed forces.

Hmmmm.... Let's keep reading.

These things go for 3 city blocks! Wait. My brain saw "3 city blocks" and ignored "1 city block." I only saw what I wanted to see.

They do indeed go 1 city block. Nobody else on my block had one, so I didn't really know till I tested these. And they may indeed go for 3 city blocks - while in orbit around the moon like it shows on the box. I say this because Charlie couldn't hear me, and he lived three short city blocks away.

Nowhere in the catalog or the paperwork does it state the power input, but an article on "Those Cheapie Walkie-Talkies" published in the January 1968 edition of Electronics Illustrated states it is 80 milliwatts. The article also says that they are of limited value unless under ideal conditions, and they can't imagine where you would find such conditions. As stated above, such conditions exist in orbit around the Earth's moon.

Considering they only have three transistors, the fact that they work at all is amazing!