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Polaris-II spaceship leaving Diemos, one of the two Moons of Mars.The famous smoking Polaris rocket.The Space Explorers opening title credit.polarisrockettowardthemoon_30p.jpg (4149 bytes)The Polaris-I rocket spaceship leaving Diemos, one of the two Moons of the Planet Mars.

Baby-boomers flashback to the year 1958...

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The search is over and the once lost, baby-boomers outer space cartoon (feature film) from our childhoods has finally been found!  It's the one with the blimp-shaped smoking rocket many of us loved, but got frustrated when describing it to others because we couldn't remember the name of it. 

The famous smoking Polaris rocket.

The name of the rocket was "Polaris" from

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In the early years of space exploration, man's dream was to land a rocket ship on the Planet Mars.  Following the scientific philosophies, teachings, and principles of Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, and Albert Einstein,  countries like Russia, Germany, and the United States were feverishly working (often secretly) to achieve the goal of landing there. 

In the late 1950's, with the support of The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Hayden Planetarium in New York,  the animated space cartoon series "THE SPACE EXPLORERS" fascinated the imagination, and further inspired this dream in the minds of American children.  It's no surprise that some of those same children, now adults, did in fact make space-related occupational career choices.

The Space Explorers (1957) opening title screen.

On the heels of the Russians successful launch of the Sputnik satellite, Dr. Franklyn M. Branley (deceased, lecturer, and Professor Emeritus at The Hayden Planetarium in New York) predicted that Man would reach Mars in 1978 (hence, that date being used in the opening credits shown below).

The Space Explorers 1978 credit title small

William Cayton and Fred Ladd started work on THE SPACE EXPLORERS animated "feature" film cartoon in 1957.  According to Fred Ladd, "Bill Cayton fulfilled the role of Producer, while I was responsible for the actual job of editing all the footage into a coherent whole, writing the script, casting & recording the voices, directing and delivering the finished production."

Closing credits, William Cayton, Fred Ladd, Pablo A. Zavala.

Working with Ladd, Dr. Branley supervised the film content to ensure the accuracy of space-related details of the production.  Shortly after completing the initial rough-cut, Ladd went on vacation to New England, and in his own words, "Just my luck—the Russians put up Sputnik!" On October 4, 1957, the Russians launched "Sputnik" (see article).   Ladd returned to New York and rushed to complete the film.

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"THE SPACE EXPLORERS film sold like hotcakes!" said Ladd. Given the feverish pitch, Cayton and Ladd rushed production on a second one-hour sequel, “The New Adventures of the Space Explorers.”  The same basic formula was used, but with different space sequences. In 1958, both films were cut into six-minute "serialized" episode segments and were syndicated to local children's programs across the US leaving a powerful positive impact on the children as revealed by many of the Guestbook Comments.

According to Ladd, "The films were initially made as 'features.' The feature films were then re-edited into 6-minute series. That's because TV stations needed 6-minute episodes to integrate into their live kid-shows. The series were licensed to independent (non-network) stations, generally for 3 year terms."

Writer and researcher Kevin S. Butler recalls that "The Space Explorers" series aired between 1958 and 1962 on television shows such as,  "Terrytunes Circus"/"Merrytoones Circus" with Claude Kirchner and "Clownie", "The Space Explorers Club" with Al Hodge of the Dumont Network), and "Space Station Nine" with Chubby Jackson.  Trivia collector's will want to know that the very first television airing of The Space Explorers feature film was shown in 1958 by Claude Kirchner on WOR-TV, Channel 9, in New York.

Entries in the guestbook reveal baby-boomers remember watching the old space cartoon on:

When asked about the colorization technique used, Ladd responded, "...regarding color, both 'Explorers' pictures are in color. The animation of Commander Perry, his son Jimmy, the Professor, and Smitty was in full color as was "Universe" (or Univers as printed on the original reel) and all the other "educational footage."  The 1937 German film was actually black-and-white; and so I tinted it blue. For the Mars sequence, blue was wrong, so I tinted it red and ran it as a NEGATIVE (that made the white clouds BLACK -- white clouds are found only on Earth)."

"That school of production –editing together unrelated animation into completely new productions—would lead to my independent production later of “The Big World of Little Adam” TV series made in cooperation with the United States Air Force...and “Pinocchio In Outer Space” (feature-length, animated from scratch) wherein Pinocchio lands on Mars and discovers everything NASA is now discovering there today. That, in a nutshell, is how it happened" said Ladd.

A weightless, Smitty and Jimmy frolicking in Space.Polaris leaving Diemos, one of the Planet Mars two moons.Smitty and Jimmy looking back toward The Earth.

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Cast of Characters:

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Profesor Leon Nordheim and Jimmy in the Polaris-II spaceship cockpit on their way to find Commander Neil Perry who they believe has crash landed on the Planet Mars.
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Astronaut Commander Perry
Voice actor -
Cliff "Ray" Owens

Jimmy's father, Astronaut and
Commander of the Polaris-I space ship

Jimmy Perry
Voice actor -
Kerry Mark Joels

Commander Perry's son who is a stowaway in a shipping crate

Professor Nordheim
Voice actor -
Cliff "Ray" Owens

Professor and pilot of the
Polaris-II rescue rocket ship

"Smitty" the Navigator.  It is highly-controversial if as stated, whether Smitty is actually a man or a woman.  Because of the hooded appearance, this detail is indeed difficult to confirm.  Watching the film leaves you with many impressions.
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Nancy Williams receiving the phonce call that Jimmy, Smitty and Professor Nordheim have returned home safely in the Polaris-II rocket from their rescue trip to the planet Mars.
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Voice actor -
Francine "Sonia" Owens

The Navigator, and female assistant to
Professor Leon Nordheim

Nancy Williams
Voice actor -
Francine "Sonia" Owens

Jimmy's Neighborhood Friend
(not his sister as often cited)

Voice actor -
Cliff "Ray" Owens

Professor Nordheim's Assistant


Cliff "Ray" Owens The Space Explorers narrator, announcer, and Professor Leon Nordheim.

Kerry Mark Joels, PHD played the role of "Jimmy" when he was a boy.

Sonia Owens played the voice role of "Smitty the Navigator."

 Cliff "Ray" Owens
(as the narrator and
also "Professor Nordheim") 

   Kerry Mark Joels
(as "Jimmy")

Francine "Sonia" Owens
(as "Smitty" the Navigator)

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To save our servers bandwidth, additional short rare video clips of both Space Explorers versions can now be found on both YouTube  Google and AOL


Sound Effects History:
The sound effects score is what sets The Space Explorers films apart from the original two source films.
According to Fred Ladd, "The sound effects
were created by two very bright guys -Barney Beck and Al (Alfred) Schaffer who were working at radio station WOR-TV, New York, doing sound effects for radio dramas. Barney & Al later created all the sound effects for "Pinocchio In Outer Space" --really talented guys!  The Music Editor was (the late) Danny Hart, who scored 'Explorers' entirely from library music; and 'Pinocchio' *largely* from some of the same music libraries.  Beck and Schaffer also did the sound effects from the old radio show "The Shadow" which aired from 1937 - 1954.  (Note: The webmaster very much appreciates additional useful information such as the entries contributed in the guestbook.)

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Plot - The Space Explorers (1958):
The opening title screen of the vintage space cartoon is displayed

The Space Explorers title credit board.  Original artwork.
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in very large block letters with a cosmic background scene perspective that makes them appear to be several building stories high.  The opening credits set the story in 1978, and show a clever mixture of German and Russian film footage depicting the horizontal rail launch of the 'Polaris-I' spacecraft.  It is learned on the news that evening that Commander Perry had a steering malfunction aboard the first "Polaris-1" expedition to Mars and has disappeared and communication has been lost.  The rescue mission is set to launch at midnight and Perry's son Jimmy sneaks onboard by stowing away in a shipping crate loaded onto an identical rocket rescue ship named "Polaris-II" piloted by "Professor Leon Nordheim".   A very unique aspect of the launch, is the fact that the Polaris spaceships in these films take-off horizontally (as opposed to vertically) from parallel rails.  After the rescue ship "Polaris-II" blasts off for Mars, Professor Nordheim and "Smitty", the female assistant and navigator hear a strange noise and discover him asleep in the crate onboard. 

Smitty the Navigator and Jimmy onboard the Polaris-II rocket travelling through Space..       Large clear glass observation nosecone of one of the Polaris spaceships.
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This backdrop sets the stage for the remainder of the series. Under the supervision of Professor Nordheim, the trio travel through space sitting in the gigantic front glass cockpit area of the rocket, peering out through a large forward observation window.  As the ship travels through space, the sound-effects are captivating and viewers enjoy a mysterious echoing "bleeping" sound and see a blinking red light from the onboard "Iridium detector" that is uniquely one-of-a-kind.  From the added educational footage, they explore and learn all about the approaching stars, planets, moons of Mars ("Phobos" and "Deimos" are specifically mentioned) and asteroids they see approaching out the large front and side windows.

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A large amount of space exploration educational footage was cleverly combined into the American version of the "New Adventures of the Space Explorers."  Jimmy learns a new aspect of space astronomy moment by moment, including some of Albert Einstein's theories being illustrated using footage from an old Soviet (now Russia) film entitled "Universe." Near the end of their journey, when the rescue-ship Polaris-II lands on the Moon, Commander Perry (Jimmy's father)  is unexpectedly discovered there alive along with an intact Polaris-I which has run out of fuel.  It turns out that Commander Perry was never able to land on Mars, because a mechanical steering problem causes him to overshoot it, and instead he runs out of fuel on the moon during his journey back to Earth. 

Spoiler: The concluding episode features a refueled Polaris-I and the Polaris-II re-entering Earth's atmosphere together and successfully landing back on Earth.  The first to learn the good news, an aged astronomer and crony of Professor Nordheim named "Jenkins" attempts to call Jimmy's mother, but when Jimmy's neighborhood friend (not his "sister" as is often documented) Nancy answers the phone instead, and Jenkins announces that they've all come home safely.  Hearing the good news, Nancy calls out the good news to her dog "Spotty" first, and then to Jimmy's mother Mrs. Perry (who's always off-screen).  A short time later they are all together eating and sharing stories of the great space adventure, when Mrs. Perry proclaims "OK now, no more space talk until after dinner!" and that's how "The Space Explorers" 1958 series version ends.


Plot - New Adventures of the Space Explorers (1959):
The opening title screen of the second series (1959) of the space cartoon is displayed... - Intro credits of  
"New Adventures of the Space Explorers"

The amount of space exploration educational footage was expanded even further in the second series sequel. Professor Nordheim tricks an unwitting "Jimmy" to accompany himself and Smitty to locate and recover a damaged space laboratory platform.  In the 1:39 hour long  version of "New Adventures of The Space Explorers" Jimmy and Professor Nordheim recount their adventures of searching for, and saving Jimmy's astronaut father Commander Neil Perry.


The second version goes into much greater teaching details than the first about satellites, radiation, magnetism, gravity, radar, orbits, space stations, Isaac Newton, Einstein, Galileo, solar systems, milky way, galaxies, stars, asteroids, comets, NASA, propulsion, X-15, and much more. A entirely different set of rockets was added to the second series. The memorable Polaris-2 ramp (rail) launch sequence is shown again. To American baby-boomers growing up in the mid 1950's, the English narration and music score is more memorable than either of the original source films.




              animated_stars.gif (8714 bytes)

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The visuals of outer-space approaching from behind the Polaris large glass cockpit window are what many will recall as being most memorable. For others it may be the blinking light of Professor Nordheim's "Iridium Detector", or its synchronized "bleep" sound that seemed to echo all over space.  There are numerous star-lit views of traveling through space visible in the large transparent nose of the Polaris-II.  There are also many views of various planet terrain as the Polaris spaceship flies over. The Hayden Planetarium's 1950's model Wall-Projector was used to enhance realism in the backdrop of the closing credits.  The star projector in use today is the German Zeiss Mark IX Star-Projector.

Park Observatory, Princeton New Jersey.  Telescope observatory.
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These films and syndicated series captured the hearts and minds of children, who watched in amazement as new concepts were taught. It is amazing that the animated series so closely depicted what the recent NASA Mars Rover discovered there. Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers,  along with the work of Bill Cayton and Fred Ladd further inspired existing shows such as Space Patrol (Buzz Corry), Space Cadet (Tom Corbett), and later cartoons like Space Ghost, Space Angel, Johnny Quest, and countless others. The most recent sightings of the Polaris spaceship are in the very beginning of Chapter 5 of NOVA's Public Television (PBS) production of "The Elegant Universe - Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory" available on DVD. It has also been seen on the Saturday Night Live skit with Mike Myers as "Dieter," and in the July/September 2004 FILMFAX Magazine (Edition #103). 

A model of the Polaris rocket is available!

Other animation work by Fred Laderman: In 1961,    "THE UNDERSEAS EXPLORERS"
another educational series, was released using similar characters, but according to Ladd, with an underwater "HydroSpace" venue.  Cayton and Ladd were the same team who also released "Journey to the Beginning of Time" which cleverly combines live action with footage from the Czech film "Cesta Do Praveku" by Karel Zeman.

The Reviews:

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Award-winning producer of films and video programs  says, "I was five years old when it first hit the air, and I totally loved it."
...Ray Pointer,
Inkwell Images Inc.

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The Space Explorers - 02/24/2004
Old Animated Rocket Cartoon Series Review at

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Harvey Deneroff's Article
The Space Explorers Animator
Writer & Director Fred Ladd

Formerly The Hayden Planetarium, now named The Rose Center.

"'The Space Explorers', thrilling true-to-life story of man in space, is an accurate peek into the future of interplanetary travel.  It is an up-to-the-minute Adventure in Astronomy.  An authentic portrayal of our universe in this new era of real and artificial satellites.  Enlightened entertainment --- easily the finest film of its kind I have ever seen."

Franklyn Branley of the Hayden
Planetarium, NY.

jerry_becks_cartoon_research_site_logo_small.gif (16945 bytes)
Animation Historian, and Authority on Cartoon Research

"A great job of presenting factual documentation on 'The Space Explorers' series - a beloved, memorable and long neglected SCI-fi 'infotainment' that inspired the baby boomer generation."

...Jerry Beck,

The FilmFax "Big B-Movie Catalog" offers hundreds of rare and hard to find videos from the best to the worst of the B-Movie genre if you can't find it here, odds are you can't find it at all... The Filmfax and Outré collectors resource... Back issues of both of your favorite titles can be found here.
FilmFax Magazine, INC.

"Checkout the July 2004 Edition (#103) of FILMFAX Magazine for the article on Fred Ladd and The Space Explorers"

Mike Stein... FILMFAX



North American Aviation, Inc.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Jet Propulsion Laboratory - California Institute of Technology (CALTECH)
United States Air Force - Ballistic Missile Division (USAF)
Lockheed Aircraft Corporation - Missiles and Space Division
Radio Propagation Laboratory - Stanford University
Convair Division - General Dynamics Corporation
James A. Van Allen
Institute of Aeronautical Sciences, Inc.
Scientific American Magazine

Website Sources and Credits: The vast majority of information on this website was provided to the webmaster directly by the son of the late William Cayton and Mr. Fred Ladd himself.  The original master films were thought to be lost, but were recently re-discovered after more than fifty years.  Only 12 years old at the time, the original voice actor "Kerry Mark Joels", who played "Jimmy", has also contacted the webmaster to provide input.  He is now Dr. Joels, who was Curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air & Space Museum, served as consultant to The White House, was technical script consultant for the James Bond film "Moonraker," co-author of the Space Shuttle Operator's Manual, and worked with NASA on Project SkyLab to name a few.  With the contributions of the late Bill Cayton's son, Fred Ladd, and Dr. Joels direct input, this is now considered to be the most authoritative website related to The Space Explorers animated 'Feature' films on the Internet.

Thanks in advance: To Jerry Beck for researching the series on his Cartoon Research website.  To Mark Wade for his Astronautix website which served to inspire additional research for The Space Explorers website.  To Mike Simmons of the Mount Wilson Observatory for some technical corrections.  To Forrest Patton for his detailed information on the musical film scores used in The Space Explorers. To Kevin S. Butler for researching and correcting the dates, channel details and station call-signs of the baby boomer TV shows that aired the series.  Appreciation to Claude Mettavant from France for his correctly sourcing the Russian animated film.

Other references: The Internet Movie Database (, The Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, The Library of Congress, The Hayden Planetarium, and NOVA's "The Elegant Universe".  Mike Stein, Editor of Filmfax Magazine.

Source films:
1937 B&W German film  Weltraumschiff I Startet (Spaceship 1 Launches)
1953 Russian film entitled
Polet na Lunu (Flight to the Moon), by Soyuzmultfilm


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Weltraumschiff 1 Startet launching from its horizontal rails.

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The Space Explorers and The New Adventures of the Space Explorers
by CARTOON CLASSICS are © Copyrighted by Radio & Television Packagers, Inc.
All original images and multimedia sound clips are courtesy of Radio & Television Packagers, Inc.
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Animatoons™ is a trademark of Radio & Television Packagers, Inc. is a non-profit website, devoted to the fans of The Space Explorers and other animated features.
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NASA had its 50th anniversary in 2008.  NASA’s creation was directly related to the Russians (Soviet Union - USSR) launch of Sputnik and the ensuing race to demonstrate technological superiority in space. Driven by the competition of the Cold War, on July 29, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, providing for research into the problems of flight within Earth’s atmosphere and in space. After a protracted debate over military versus civilian control of space, the act inaugurated a new civilian agency designated the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The agency began operations on Oct. 1, 1958.


Last updated: 07/01/2011



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