When the Etch A Sketch debuted for sale in 1960, NASA was still sketching out plans for how to put the first humans into space.
Now, 60 years later, the classic toy is celebrating its anniversary with an astronaut-emblazoned, limited edition inspired by the space agency.
"We wanted something that we felt was perceived as a legacy as much as Etch A Sketch is, and we all believe — and I don't think anyone would argue — that NASA is probably one of the most beloved brands in America," said Arlene Biran, vice president of marketing for activities and building sets at Spin Master, the toy company that acquired Etch A Sketch from its original manufacturer, the Ohio Art Company, in 2016.
Launched for sale on Friday (May 1), National Space Day, the "NASA-Inspired Limited Edition" Etch A Sketch trades the toy's famous red frame with white knobs for a black, graphic-covered motif.
"We went with a dark, deep space design," Biran told collectSPACE.
Depicted to the left of the Etch A Sketch's screen, is NASA's Artemis program Space Launch System (SLS) rocket displaying the agency's logo. On the right, is a spacewalking astronaut based on a photo of STS-64 mission specialist Mark Lee taken in 1994. Both images are set against a starry background.
"And, of course, the iconic knob of our Etch A Sketch are actually moons," said Biran. "They are molded in moon shapes instead of the classic white dial."
NASA oversaw Spin Master's design of the edition, in part to ensure it complied with the agency's rules for use of its insignia.
"They guided us on what was acceptable," Biran explained. "They do not co-brand, so there was a very interesting decision I had to make. If I didn't want 'Etch A Sketch' on the box, I could have just called it 'NASA.' But, obviously it was a collaboration, so we had to be very delicate in the placement."
As part of the federal government, NASA cannot endorse commercial products, hence the need to avoid even the appearance of such.
The NASA-Inspired Limited Edition comes packaged with an overlay that makes it look like the Ursa Major and Ursa Minor constellations are drawn on the screen.
"We decided to go with the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, in terms of the overlay, both because they are recognizable to somebody who is not so deep into space knowledge and also because it can be used as a tracing template," said Biran.
The NASA edition is one of six 60th anniversary Etch A Sketch sets. Other limited models include a Monopoly board game edition, a set inspired by the late Marvel comic book writer Stan Lee and a Rubik's Cube edition. Each retails for $19.99.
The NASA-Inspired Etch A Sketch will be sold through the Spin Master website beginning Friday and at Walmart stores nationwide this summer. As part of the launch, Spin Master will be supporting the next generation of space explorers by underwriting a scholarship awarded by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
The NASA edition is the first time that Etch A Sketch has worked with the space agency and the closest it will come to flying in space. The "magic screen" needs gravity to work.
"I wish it could [fly], but you couldn't shake the beads to cover the screen. Perhaps you could use it once, but I don't think you could shake it to erase it and do it again," said Biran.
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