Ground Control to Major Matt Mason

Everyone has heard of G.I. Joe. Introduced by Hasbro in 1964, the movable fighting man was the original “action figure.” Not only does G.I. Joe exist today as a continually evolving toy, but he has made the leap into popular culture, featured in a slew of cartoons, books, and even live-action movies

Sadly, not nearly as many people are familiar with Major Matt Mason, Mattel’s “Man in Space.” Launched (see what I did there) in 1966, the major has largely languished in obscurity.

This is unfortunate since, by any reasonable comparison, Major Matt Mason was demonstrably superior. Sure, Matt Mason was smaller than G.I. Joe (6¼ inches vs. 12 inches), but he excelled in pretty much every other category. G.I Joe had an army-issue jeep; Major Matt Mason had a Space Crawler. Joe had a pup tent; Mason had a tri-level space station. Joe had canteens, backpacks, and rifles. Mason had moon suits, space sleds, and jet packs. Mason had a freakin’ Gamma Ray-Gard Projector! I have no idea what that even is, but it’s got to be better than a bazooka.

And if that wasn’t enough, Mason himself was made out of Plastisol, a space-age polymer that can also be used in pulsed solid rocket boosters. Let that sink in for a minute: Major Matt Mason is essentially made out of rocket fuel.

Advantage, Mason. It’s not even close.

Mattel introduced Major Matt Mason at the height of the space race, a time when moon bases weren’t just possible, they were expected. Mason embodied the promise of a Star Trek-future, boldly going where no man or woman had gone before. Unfortunately, these big ideas didn’t last nearly long enough.

Neither did Major Matt Mason. At least partly as a result of NASA budget cuts and the subsequent loss of general interest in space exploration, he was unceremoniously discontinued in the early 1970s—a mere six years after his incarnation.

Major Matt Mason

Meanwhile, G.I. Joe keeps going strong. I suppose the Pentagon’s ever-increasing budget and our society’s fascination with all things military has contributed to his ongoing success. Personally, I’d choose an astronaut any day.

But things are looking up for our intrepid hero. There’s a possible Major Matt Mason Movie in the works. And with Tom Hanks at the helm there’s a solid chance Mason will finally get the recognition he so richly deserves—perhaps even a merchandising deal that will put a version of the bendy little guy back on toy store shelves. 

In the meantime, I continue to wait for SpaceX, Blue Origin, and others to deliver on the promises made so many decades ago. One can hope.