The 1987 Payload figure was the first Astronaut released in the G.I. Joe line. As the pilot of the Defiant Space Shuttle, he was designed to be both realistic and militaristic. In these regards, the figure succeeded greatly. The Defiant, though, was a large, expensive to produce playset with low production numbers. In order to recoup the development costs, Hasbro re-released part of the shuttle as the Crusader in 1989. This scaled down shuttle was more affordable and a good way for Hasbro to get more mileage out of the original mold. To retain consistency, Hasbro included Payload as the Crusader's pilot as well. This 1989 version was brighter, but retained the design and accessories that made the original version so great.
Payload was designed to be an astronaut: first and foremost. The result is that he looks like he's wearing a legitimate space suit. It has some bulk, is well detailed and fits the look of late 1980's astronauts. The helmet is a bit stylish. But, this was still a toy and it was designed to be eye catching. The figure has the "puffiness" of a spacesuit, while not being bulky. The helmet bubble is very large and protrudes on the back. But, this is a less claustrophobic look than that of the Secto Viper or even the 1991 General Hawk body. (Though it does cause the head to flop a bit inside the helmet.) The one detail that proves this is a Joe figure is the molded pistol on the figure's leg. This retains the military bent and adds a bit of a science fiction element to the character since he's carrying a firearm inside of a vehicle that, were it perforated at all by a single bullet, would spell death for each crew member.
There were 2 astronauts released in 1989: this Payload and the original Countdown. Of the two, Countdown has better coloring. He is a all white with subtle blue and silver highlights. Payload is far more garish with his white base offset by bright yellow details. These yellow parts were done in a brownish maroon on the 1987 version. (It should be noted that the two figures do use some different paint masks as the knee pads on the 1989 figure are unpainted.) This yellow hue gives the figure a completely different look. The result is that the '89 Payload figure is more at home with the 1993 and 1994 Star Brigade figure than is the 1987. But, this difference is nice as it gives the mold some diversity. While the base, white color is the same. The reality is that the starkly different accent colors create two definitive figures. While the usefulness of bright yellow can be debated, the fact that is starkly contrasts with the original figure can not be.
Payload's accessories are the same as the 1987 version, only in different colors. The figure's helmet is yellow, to match his highlights. He then includes the astronaut backpack with extender arms. It is, though, colored light grey as opposed to the white from the 1987 version. The result is that Payload looks like an astronaut with gear that was appropriate for the 1987 release year. The 1988 Astro Viper and 1989 Countdown, though, both went in a different direction and included gear that was less realistic, but more fun to play with. It's a somewhat stark difference from just 2 years of design. But, it shows where G.I. Joe was going as the '80's wound down and the '90's were beginning.
In the comic book, the Payload character was portrayed as African American. Both of his figures, though, were Caucasian. As such, there was a disconnect over the figure's race at some point between the Hasbro final figure design and the source material that Marvel used for the comics. (Or, it was just an artist error that they kept up for a while.) It's about the only interesting thing about this figure/character from the Joe canon.
Astronauts are among my favorite figures. The reasons vary from time to time. But, the notion that you could get astronaut figures in a line that was, otherwise, military was a great way to expand the core G.I. Joe concept. My affair with the action figure began in 1978 with my first Kenner C-3P0 figure. The science fiction element of Star Wars appealed to me. As I got older, though, I found that play more based in realism was more to my liking. G.I. Joe astronauts enabled me to appease both facets. I had realistic space based figures, but could use them in science fiction settings. I desperately wanted a Payload for part of 1987 when I added an old Slave I ship to my Joe vehicle stable. Payload would have been the perfect pilot. Without him, I settled for Knockdown. The limitations of that figure quickly ended the Star Wars/G.I. Joe vehicle crossovers and my interest in the line diminished.
The Payload mold was used for the two American figures in 1987 and 1989. After that, the mold was sent down to Brazil where Estrela released the Crusader with a version of Payload named Orbita. Orbita was, basically, the same as the '89 Payload, but is still a fun figure to find. Hasbro planned to bring Payload back in 1993. Early 1993 Star Brigade cardbacks featured an airbrushed 1987 Payload mold, colored in a green and black color scheme. With the mold being in Brazil, though, Hasbro could not use for the 1993 figure. So, they chose the 1992 Eco Warriors Barbecue mold as the Payload repaint and promptly created three unique paint schemes for the figure that was released in the two years of the Star Brigade line. It's likely that this original mold would have seen the ad naseum repaint treatment has Hasbro found it. It would be interesting to see what a trio of late run releases that would have been clearance fodder would have done to the value of the first two Payload figures. Especially if the final three repaints were deemed to be better paint jobs. It's likely that they would have greatly devalued these figures from the 1980's. But, we'll never know.
1989 Payloads are no where near as expensive as 1987 figures. The figure is still not overly easy to find, though. Mint and complete with filecard figures sell between $30 and $45. That's about half the amount of the 1987, but still pretty pricey. Every astronaut aficionado needs to have at least one version of the original Payload mold in their collection. He's unique and offers something that 1993 and 1994 Star Brigade figures do not. But, if you're going to do a high dollar purchase for a version of this mold, the higher priced 1987 is a better figure and is worth the extra money. This yellow version is a nice placeholder and has uses. But, that's a small fate for a figure with such a high price-tag. I was able to get my copies of this figure back in the days before they got overly pricey. I'm grateful for that since it is a great mold and I'm a sucker for space figures. Some day, I'll have a full Defiant. Until then, these figures wait for their turn to be out on prominent display.