Most of the United States – and arguably much of the world – was enthralled with the idea of space travel in the 1950s and ’60s. And it wasn’t just adults who were entertaining a growing interest in all things space – children were equally as enchanted in the idea of launching off to the moon. So much so that space travel staples, such as rockets and satellites, began to replace the traditional slides and teeter-totters on children’s playground equipment in the era.

In the March 1963 LIFE Magazine, with a young Fidel Castro on the cover, an article titled “Playgrounds Take a Space-Age Spin” gives a colorful, if very indicative of the times, description of the playgrounds. 

“It is once again that time of year when children explode from steam-heated houses – but the familiar playground cry of ‘Bang, bang, you’re dead!’ is giving way to ‘Blast off!’ This space-age switch from the TV-style fast draw to the countdown is encouraged to no end by the latest in playground equipment,” the article reads. It goes on to describe the new structures, which often seemed to include the ubiquitous three-tiered rocket slide, as colorful like art and as different from traditional playground equipment as “Telstar is from a Conestoga wagon.” 

But it wasn’t just the United States that was encouraging a childhood interest in space through play, as these playgrounds were showing up in the USSR and other Eastern Bloc countries at the time, too. An Atlas Obscura article from 2013 with the unlikely title “The Essential Guide to Soviet Playgrounds: Fun and Games in the USSR,” offers examples and pictures of 1960s era playground equipment in the former communist collection of countries. Many rockets, similar to the ones in U.S. playgrounds at the same time, are featured.

The reason that this information may seem oddly familiar is that many of these playground structures endured through the 1970s and 1980s, and some even into the 21st century. Many readers have probably slid down a rocket slide or climbed atop satellite-shaped climbing bars. But, as a new focus on increased safety measures came into play after the creation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1973, many playgrounds were renovated. And the focus on space travel was not as strong for later generations.

Not all of the rocket slides are gone. Many can still be found in older playgrounds around the country and in Oklahoma. But as these space-themed playgrounds are removed, a few have rooted themselves in nostalgia to such a degree that some communities, after removing the actual structures, have erected statues to pay tribute.

Find the Rockets

Here are a few parks with rocket play structures that you may remember, and some you can still visit today.

Playground rocket in Glenwood Park

Rocket Park

Stephenson Park – an ongoing renovation project saw the removal of a rocket slide last fall, but parts will be used as an art piece in the completed park

Rocket slide in Jaycee Park

Rocket slide in Fairmoore Park – removed in 2000

Oklahoma City:
Stars and Stripes Park rocket ship slide – removed in 2007

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