The Young Astronauts (lost unaired animated series; 1986)
Drawn ad from a magazine: this is the only confirmed visual evidence remaining to this day.
The Young Astronauts was an animated series originally meant to air on Saturday mornings on CBS in February 1986.
The Young Astronauts cartoon series focused on the space exploration and astral-adventures of the Hampton family. Wife and mother, Kelly Hampton, is the captain of the spaceship Courageous. Co-piloting at her side is husband Jason Hampton. Along with their three children; Wendy, Rick (both teenagers), their youngest Mikey (with his cat Rascal and a robotic maintenance sidekick named Retro), paint a realistic picture of having to survive the harshness of space in the 21st century. The adventure starts when Mikey's cat (Rascal) stows upon a cargo rover destined for Mars. The unmanned vessel takes off with Mikey and Rascal in stow. Wendy and Rick then sneak off in a second craft with the intent to save the two before their oxygen runs out. Parents Kelly and Jason follow suit in the Courageous, thus beginning their adventures in the vastness of space begins.
The focus of the series was to market the real Young Astronauts space program to children, by getting them more interested in learning about space exploration and the related science involved. Each episode of the cartoon would have concluded with a live-action, educational segment called "Astro Minute" which focused on real astronauts briefly teaching children about space-related science and facts.
It's believed that the series was cancelled by CBS after a single airing of the pilot episode was shown. Supposedly, it aired on Saturday morning January 25th, 1986. This was just three days before the NASA Challenger shuttle explosion tragedy that happened shortly after launch on January 28th, 1986. While it hasn't been confirmed whether or not the pilot actually made it to air, what has been confirmed is that the Challenger disaster was the real reasoning behind the death of the series. Due to the space exploration theme of the cartoon, CBS pulled the show as to not wanting to be viewed as a television network that was profiting from a devastating tragedy. The Young Astronauts cartoon was simply a victim of circumstance and bad timing.
With no Saturday morning cartoon or the planned 6-issue Star Comics series finding its way into American households, along with production disagreements and lost investments, a lengthy legal battle was fought between partnering companies (Marvel Comics and The Young Astronauts Council). A court battle not seeing resolve until August of 1990 in Marvel Comics favor.
According to an anonymous commenter on a blog, the pilot episode was actually shown on January 26th, 1986 on CBS, two days before the Challenger tragedy. The anonymous commenter claims that they worked on the series at Marvel Productions and there were a total of 13 episodes made, with only the first one that aired.
Considering that other sources claim to have seen the lone aired episode (and provided the loose description of the young boy accidentally sent into space - fitting the character in the drawn ad), it is possible that at least this episode could have been recorded on VHS by someone.
An animation cel attributed to The Young Astronauts has resurfaced among a private collector's gallery; the character looks like an astronaut, and at least fits in the theme of the cartoon.
If it does indeed come from this animated series, then it would be confirmed that animation was done by Toei Animation as it did with other Marvel productions at the time (many western cartoons, especially serialized TV ones, were animated in Japan during the 1980s).
- Blog post talking about the cartoons in the ad, and an anonymous blogger's testimony about the one episode airing.
- NYT article describes the show.
- Source of the cel.
- Toei listed as animating one episode of the series for Marvel.
- Original artwork for scraped Marvel comic book by Rudy Nebres.