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

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Space Commander Walkie-Talkie

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 name was "Hair" because he had long hair.

I'm not sure what a "Pizza Brack" was. I went to somebody's house, probably Brian's, but I don't remember having any pizza. Maybe we got there late.

The walkie-talkie I bought, though completely useless at the time, is a fond memory. This 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 the "Space 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.

    So how does a kid with no money get 10 nine volt batteries? Somehow, Charlie Keenan made friends with the manager 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
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.
 
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 HA-70c and the HA-70d were both called "Astro Commander" in the catalog but "Space Commander" on the box. 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.
 
HA70c
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.
 
Or 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 ballistic re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere from the moon, 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 appeared in the Lafayette catalog in 1967 (page 128), 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.

 
An amazing phenomenon is also happening here.
The astronaut's voice is traveling out of his helmet and through the vacuum of space into his Space Commander Walkie-Talkie!
 

 
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 the Earth's moon with one? Can you land on a moon of Saturn? No!! You can lock on the push-to-talk switch, which doesn't sound very smart considering they ran on a 9 volt battery.

To make matters worse, they transmit on channel 14, so a "Space Commander" wouldn't be able to command a space patroller because they couldn't talk to each other. So if you can't go into space with one of these, how are you supposed to "patrol" space? What bullsh*t! What liars!

 
Some years later, Radio Shack came out with this version. What is that on the bottom-left? Is that SATURN? I don't think so. What is that yellow orb at the top? Titan? No! This picture of the walkie-talkie in space is a FAKE! The hand holding the Space Patrol doesn't even have a space suit glove on it. It looks like one of those rubber hands you buy at Halloween to scare people with.

Nice try Radio Shack, but you can't patrol space with this, you liars! You serpents of deceit! How many kids did you dishearten with the false promise depicted on this box? 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?
 

Space Patrol
These are real Space Patrol walkie-talkies, with "space-signal intake vanes" on the backs. You can tell from this actual photograph that the Space Patrolman is on a moon of Saturn, just like a Remco Space Commander. As a matter of fact, 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. These were made by Merit Toys and Games in England. Merit also sold these as "Thunderbirds" intercoms, but even though they were the exact same "walkie-talkie," there was no indication you could go to a moon of Saturn on the  "Thunderbirds" box, so they were probably just toys, and not real, like the Space Patrol walkie-talkies are.

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.
 

WOW, 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 output. Most cheap walkie-talkies boasted of an output of 100 milliwatts (.1 watt), and these are even less.

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

 

 
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