In 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) evolved from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). NASA’s mission consisted of beating the Russians in the Space Race. No easy task, this. The year prior to NASA’s birth, the Russians placed Sputnik I in orbit. It was the first man-made object in space.
And so was born Project Mercury, a massive undertaking involving the selection of America’s best and brightest test pilots to be astronauts. Literally translated, an astronaut is a star voyager. Television reflected America’s fascination with space.
The Flintstones added the wise-cracking diminutive alien Gazoo, voiced by Harvey Korman. I Dream of Jeannie revolved around a male fantasy of a beautiful, buxom blonde to grant wishes and obey comments. The protagonist was Captain (later Major) Anthony Nelson, a NASA astronaut.
Star Trek followed the voyages of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise in the 23rd century, voyages adhering to the mission of going where no man has gone before.
Lost in Space was a space-age version of Swiss Family Robinson, Johann David Wyss’ story of a shipwrecked family carving a new life on an island. But the history of Lost in Space is a bit more complex than pitching a literary classic’s theme in a modern context.
Gold Key published the comic book series Space Family Robinson from 1962 to 1978 with the first issue dated December 1962. Lost in Space served as the title of the first story in Issue #2. Gold Key began using the Lost in Space subtitle on the covers beginning with Issue #15 in January 1966, only a a few months after the Lost in Space television show premiered in September 1965. After Lost in Space was cancelled in 1968, Gold Key altered the title to read Space Family Robinson: Lost in Space on Space Station One.
Del Connell created Space Family Robinson for Gold Key. His storyline consisted of parent scientists Craig and June Robinson, plus their two teenagers, Tim and Tim. Also included were their pets, parrot Yakker and dog Clancy, the latter being an inspiration from Connell’s family dog. Circa 2001, the Robinsons lived on Earth’s first space station, encountered aliens, and survived adventures in the theretofore unknown universe when a “violent cosmic explosion rocks their experimental home.” Hence, they are shipwrecked in space.
Ed Shifres, author of the 1996 book Space Family Robinson: The True Story, wrote to Disney artist Carl Barks about the origins of the show to research Barks’ rumored association with the creation of Space Family Robinson. He received a letter dated November 6, 1991 supporting Connell as the creator.
“First off, my connection to the Gold Key Space Family Robinson comic book stories was zero. I neither wrote the stories nor drew any of the artwork. I believe Del Connell, one of Gold Key’s editors was the writer. My name has gotten hooked into the folklore of the series creation by the fact that I wrote a one-line suggestion to editor Chase Craig around 1960-61 to the effect that Gold Key should do a comic book version of Swiss Family Robinson and title it Space Family Robinson.
“It was just an idea that popped into my head. I had never heard of any use of the title in TV or anywhere else.”