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Boomers in Space

At the time of this writing, fellow boomer and big-time astronaut Scott Kelly (born 1964) is aboard the International Space Station (ISS) along with American doctor-astronaut-flight engineer Kjell Lindgren, one Japanese man and two Russian cosmonauts. Their mission is to study communications and conduct various experiments while living one year in space. The mission duration is twice that of any previous ISS crew, an intentional scheduling to study the long-term effects of space on the human body. NASA is gathering information for a possible mission to Mars in the 2030s.

Fifty years ago this month, in August of 1965, a similar mission was launched by NASA to investigate the effects of space on humans. Gemini 5 was a week-long mission with pilot Charles “Pete” Conrad and command pilot Gordon Cooper on board the spacecraft as it orbited the planet. In all the astronauts spent eight days in space, the time it would take to fly to the moon and back.

After losing out to the Russians on being the first in space and the first to walk in space, America was determined to get back in the Space Race and had begun to catch up. It was May 25, 1961 when President John F. Kennedy announced our goal of sending men to the moon — and back — by the end of the decade. In December of that year, NASA expanded the Gemini missions to include two-man spacecrafts.

Gemini 5 was to be the first big test for going to the moon. After launch, the astronauts were to rendezvous with a practice pod that had been released from the spacecraft in a test of maneuverability and navigation. Gemini 5 was to be first in another regard, in that it had fuel cells for power. However, from the start the crew had trouble with the fuel cells that resulted in a diminished electrical power supply. Mission Control considered scrapping the mission, but once the fuel cells were turned off and restarted, the crew was ordered to give the cells tasks that steadily increased the need for more power. It was determined that the mission could proceed.

Having missed their window to meet with the pod, an alternative plan was suggested. Buzz Aldrin had a PhD in orbital mechanics, and offered a plan where the astronauts would be tasked to navigate to a specific location. The plan was accepted and executed on the third day. It was the first time a spacecraft carried out precision maneuvers, and it worked perfectly.

A few other glitches prevented the astronauts from completing some of the planned experiments, though the vast majority were performed, including medical tests, measurement tests and photography of the Earth.

On August 29, 1965, the crew positioned the spacecraft to return to Earth. In a controlled reentry, they rotated the capsule to create lift and drag. Everything seemed to work as planned, but a programmer had mistakenly entered the rate of rotation of the Earth. As a result, the capsule splashed down 80 miles from the planned coordinates in the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite a few glitches the mission was a success. NASA had the information it needed, and proved that men could survive in space for the time necessary to get them to the moon and back. The Space Race was about to get very interesting.

Mister Boomer doesn’t remember Gemini 5 in particular, but he, like many boomers, watched every space launch and splashdown with great interest. He followed the articles in the daily newspaper day by day for every mission from Mercury to Gemini and on the Apollo. He was mesmerized by the prospect of space travel that had been imagined by science fiction writers, starting with his reading of Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon. He has been a big fan of the Space Program ever since.

Flash forward to our current space endeavors, and it is truly amazing what we have accomplished in fifty years. No one could have imagined that the U.S. and Russia would cooperate on space missions back then; the Cold War and Space Race were intertwined. Let’s hope tensions between our two countries doesn’t bring us back to a time when we were more interested in national pride than the pursuit of knowledge and discovery.

Did you watch and listen to reports about Gemini 5 fifty years ago, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Space and have Comment (1)

Boomer TV History: My Mother the Car

In the 1960s, flying nuns, talking horses, Martians, genies and witches joined families in TV comedies. So it was that NBC thought it had tapped the formula that the public welcomed into their living rooms on a regular basis when they aired My Mother the Car (September 14, 1965 to April 5, 1966). It would ultimately be called one of the worst TV comedies of all time.

What went wrong? Alan Burns was the co-creator of My Mother the Car. He went on to create The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Lou Grant, which were some of the most critically acclaimed shows of their decade. Jerry Van Dyke was brought in as the star, and, though he walked in the shadow of the popularity his brother — Dick Van Dyke — he was a recognized funny man in his own right. Was it the premise? David Crabtree (Jerry Van Dyke) was an attorney looking for a second family car. When he walked through a used car lot, a 1928 Porter in disrepair talked to him through the radio. The voice Mr. Crabtree heard was not just any voice, though, it belonged to his deceased mother, Gladys (voiced by Ann Southern). He discovered his mother had been reincarnated as a car, so naturally he had to buy it and restore it to its original splendor. Therein lies the comedic machinations, as his car/mother only spoke to him, while avid car collector Captain Manzini (Avery Schrieber) played the villain, conspiring to get his hands on the vintage automobile by any means necessary.

The pieces all looked good on paper, but somehow, the show never clicked with the audience. Decades before KITT spoke on Knight Rider, Mrs. Crabtree spoke to her son through the car’s radio as the lights on the dials flashed in synchronization. Since she only spoke to Jerry Van Dyke’s character, all the car was able to emote at other times was a horn honk or a headlight flash.

Unlike Knight Rider, there was no cool factor in My Mother the Car; David Crabtree’s mother “came back” as an antique car that had very little relevance to a 1960s TV audience. The car used in the series was actually an amalgamation of parts, mostly from old Fords. In actuality, a company called Porter did make cars in the 1920s. The real car company put together a Chevy chassis and mostly Ford engine and body parts, with finishes created by Porter. The car only came in red, with a white cloth top and brass fittings, which was imitated by the series. The other distinguishing features were large whitewall tires and a wicker trunk. Car radios, however, wouldn’t be found in cars as standard factory equipment until the 1930s.

The concept was no more far-fetched than many of the other comedies of the day, but, in Mister Boomer’s opinion, the show just wasn’t funny. He recalls his parents watching the show, and would sometimes remain in the living room while it was on. Other times he would retire to his bedroom where he and his brother would do homework and play records.

On April 5, 1966, the program was interrupted by a special report on NASA. When the report finished, My Mother the Car did not return. It would never be seen on regular network TV again. Of the 30 episodes that were made, 28 aired. It was several years before anyone would see the complete uninterrupted episode and the final two episodes.

Due to the mid-episode interruption, the program does have a unique connection to mid-60s Space Race history, though. The presentation that preempted My Mother the Car was about an announcement that week by NASA that named the next 19 astronauts. America’s Space Program was in full swing as each scheduled mission was designed to provide the information and technology that would be needed to achieve President John Kennedy’s 1961 challenge of sending a man to the moon and back before the end of the decade. The 19 men named as astronauts were all military pilots, unlike the original Mercury and Gemini astronauts, who were science specialists. Of the group, nine did eventually fly to the moon and three walked on the moon. The remainder flew Skylab and Shuttle missions. There is no evidence (at least none NASA is admitting to) that any of these astronauts heard the voice of their deceased mothers speaking to them from their spacecraft’s radio system.

Did you watch My Mother the Car, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Cars,Pop Culture History,Space,TV and have Comment (1)

Boomers Loved the Whole Tang Thing

Tang, the orange-flavored drink powder that became such a big part of growing up a baby boomer, wasn’t always a popular choice. The formula was developed in 1957 by William A. Mitchell, a food scientist for General Foods. It was marketed for purchase in 1959, and was given a tepid reception by consumers. Moms weren’t at all sure about the drink powder, even if it was purported to have twice as much vitamin C as orange juice, and added vitamin A, too.


Tang received a lukewarm reception by the moms of baby boomers in the late 1950s.

That all changed in 1962, when John Glenn took Tang into space aboard the Friendship 7. Since it was a powder, the drink could be mixed with water in a closed vessel and drunk from a straw-like tube. NASA history states that Tang was among several types of foods the organization wanted Glenn to test for eating viability in space during the Gemini missions, though the organization is adamant in stating it does not now nor has it ever endorsed brand-name products. Legend has it, however, that Glenn and his fellow Gemini astronauts were the reason Tang went into space. They were not at all fond of the water they had to drink in the spacecraft since the filtration system imparted an unpleasant aftertaste. This version of the story goes on to say that Tang was first smuggled onboard by the Gemini astronauts in order to make their water more palatable. No matter which story line is true, Tang rocketed into the public consciousness as soon as the company took advantage of their association with the Space Program to market the powder as the “drink of astronauts.”


After John Glenn took Tang into space, sales took off.

Through this television campaign, Mister B became aware of the product. His family did buy Tang on occasion, but it was not a staple of the breakfast routine. Mister B and his siblings weren’t crazy about it; they felt the powder didn’t impart enough flavor into the water using the recommended tablespoon per 8 oz. glass, so they would double or triple the powder to water ratio. The Boomer children, mostly Mister B’s sister, discovered that it was more fun to eat the powder directly. Tang powder was a little puckery due to the citric acid (foreshadowing the craze kids have today for sour candy), but offered a Pixie-stick experience, and it turned your tongue orange, too.

It may very well be that Tang sealed its fate when it literally hitched its wagon to the stars. In the early 1960s, the entire country was all abuzz about the Space Program, but none more so than little boys. If a Tang commercial came on during Saturday morning cartoons, there was a pretty good bet that little boys would ask their moms to buy the products, based solely on the notion that it was the beverage that astronauts drank in space. That wasn’t the case in Mister B’s home. More than likely, it was a situation of his parents wanted to be a part of the Space Age future with these new foods that were being introduced.

Tang is still produced today, and is now offered in several fruit flavors around the globe. It is also interesting to note that William A. Mitchell further ingratiated himself with baby boomers by inventing Pop Rocks, and later, Cool Whip, in addition to the Tang formulation. As for the Space Program, NASA may have a reduced budget in which to carry out its missions these days, but Tang is still being served aboard the International Space Station.

Was Tang a part of your family’s breakfast routine, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Pop Culture History,Space and have Comments Off on Boomers Loved the Whole Tang Thing

Boomer Math Quiz

Hey, boomer buddies! Set your Wayback Machines to “fun” and put a fresh set of batteries in your calculator. Use the clues in these boomer pop culture references to get the numbers referenced, then add, subtract or multiply as indicated. You do the math, because it’s two…two…two quizzes in one!

 

Boomer Math Quiz

Progress:

1. Number of children Fred and Wilma Flintstone had PLUS the number of eyes visible on "The Jetsons'" Rosey the household robot.

2. Number of six-shooters carried by Quick Draw McGraw TIMES the number of barrels in Elmer Fudd's shotgun.

3. The Marvelette's "Beechwood (xxxxx)" PLUS The Beach Boys song in which they sing, "She's so fine my (xxx)," about a Chevy engine.

4. Number of girls Florence Henderson's character contributed to "The Brady Brunch," MINUS the number of boys Shirley Jones had in "The Partridge Family."

5. Barbara Feldon's "Get Smart" Agent No. (xx) TIMES Patrick McGoohan's character's name/number on "The Prisoner."

6. Ralph, Alice, Norton and Trixie lived at (xxx) Chauncey St., Brooklyn PLUS the number of letters in Patty Duke's identical cousin's name.

7. Year Neil Armstrong said, "that's one small step for [a] man..." MINUS the year of the Summer of Love.

8. In the musical "Hair," the Age of Aquarius states "when the moon is in the (x)th house ..." TIMES The Beatles "White Album" "Revolution" song in which a voice repeatedly speaks this number.

9. The Searcher's "Love Potion No. (x)," PLUS Ronny and the Daytonas' "(x) deuces and a four-speed and a 389," from the song, "G.T.O."

10. Efram Zimbalist, Jr. worked at (xx) Sunset Strip PLUS Martin Milner got his kicks riding Route (xx).

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posted by Mister B in Cars,Fun,Music,Pop Culture History,Space,TV and have Comments Off on Boomer Math Quiz

Many Boomer Influencers and Idols Passed On in 2012

As we begin another year, it’s worth noting the long list of illustrious personalities who crossed through our boomer lives in the worlds of science and technology; music and entertainment; politics and pop culture. Not all were boomers themselves, but all were admired by boomers for their contributions.

Music and Entertainment
Mister Boomer has argued during the history of this site that the world of entertainment — in particular, music — was so ingrained in our daily lives as to become as common to us as breathing. Music was everywhere, and we liked it that way. When a member of that community dies, there is no doubt that boomers feel it more deeply than others because of the emotional attachments that grew between us through their art.

Etta James (January 20, age 73)
Born Jamesetta Hawkins, Etta hit the scene in the boomer era when she released a blues-tinged single, Dance With Me, Henry, in 1954. Within a few years she would get signed by Chess Records, where she adopted a new stage name by separating her first name and transposing the syllables. In late 1960, Etta released At Last! an album that mixed jazz, blues, doo-wop and rhythm and blues to critical acclaim. In early 1961 she released the song from the album that was to be her signature for the rest of her life: At Last. There is probably not a boomer born before 1955 who doesn’t recall an early slow dance memory of dancing to that song. Mister B’s brother bought the 45, of course, and it remains in Mister B’s collection today. Etta James was inducted into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and the blues Hall of Fame in 2001.

Davy Jones (February 29, age 66)
What began as an experiment for TV become a cultural phenomenon when Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork became The Monkees in 1966. It didn’t matter much to boomers that the group was fabricated for TV. We liked the music and the comedy. And of course, in keeping with every popular group of the day, at least one of the band members had to be singled out as the heartthrob. For The Monkees, that was Davy Jones. See Mister B’s remarks on his passing at: Boomers Loved Their Teen Angels

Levon Helm (April 9, age 71)
Levon Helm entered the boomer realm as the drummer for The Band. He was recruited by Bob Dylan to bring his band, Levon and the Hawks, on tour at a time when Dylan wanted to “go electric.” History records how poorly received Dylan’s electric tour was (1965). Levon and his band moved to Woodstock, New York after the tour to regroup. Locals were so used to seeing them that they became known as “the band,” and the name stuck. Known for fusing early American music with rock, The Band’s best known hit was The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (1972).

Dick Clark (April 18, age 82)
Could there have possibly been a more influential TV personality in the lives of boomers? Dick Clark gave us, via the new medium of TV, exactly what we were looking for: the cool and the current. Read Mister B’s memorial take on his passing in an earlier post: Dick Clark Made Boomer History

Robin Gibb (May 20, age 61)
Most people will recall that the Bee Gees (short for the brothers Gibb) were beyond famous when their soundtrack for the movie Saturday Night Fever was released in 1972. However, the group, of which Robin was primarily a backup singer, had several hits dating back to 1963. Robin took over lead vocals on many early hits like Massachusetts, I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You and I Started a Joke.

Andy Griffith (July 3, age 86)
The Andy Griffith Show brought the mythical town of Mayberry to our TV screens throughout our early years (1960-’68). Andy’s Sheriff Andy Taylor character had a constant smile, friendly demeanor and fatherly wisdom that echoed 1950s TV programming. Andy got his start in movies and early TV in the mid-50s, and after quitting his TV show, re-emerged as the title character for the detective show, Matlock, in 1986. Perhaps because he himself was aging, or because our parents watched Andy Griffith all those years earlier, the show became a favorite among many parents of boomers, as well as grandparents.

Ginny Tyler (July 13, age 86)
Back when early boomers could recite the names of the Mouseketeers by heart, there was Ginny. She was the head Mouseketeer of The Mickey Mouse Club when the earlier shows were repackaged for syndication in 1963, introducing new segments that ran alongside older film. In addition, she did voiceovers for several Disney films, including singing the parts of the barnyard animals in Mary Poppins.

Jon Lord (July 16, age 71)
As the keyboardist and founder of Deep Purple, Jon transformed his Hammond organ sound to co-exist alongside the band’s guitars on tracks of the late sixties and early seventies that many say laid the groundwork for hard rock.

Hal David (September 1, age 91)
In the early 1960s, the airwaves were saturated with hits written by the Hal David. Teaming up with Burt Bacharach and dozens of stars of the day (especially Dionne Warwick), every boomer can sing at least some lyrics from a Hal David song: Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, This Guy’s In Love With You, Don’t Make Me Over, Walk On By, What the World Needs Now Is Love … the list goes on and on. In addition, Mr. David teamed up with Burt Bacharach (composer) and Neil Simon (book), writing the lyrics to the Broadway musical Promises, Promises (1968).

Dave Brubeck (December 5, age 91)
Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, Dave Brubeck toured college campuses in an effort to expose more people to jazz. Though the kind of rock that boomers helped evolve always contained elements of jazz, it was Dave Brubeck’s Time Out album (1959) that many say changed the landscape of that all-American musical form, becoming the first jazz album to sell more than a million copies. Take Five, the quintessential hit from that milestone album, was a crossover hit not only of musical genres but of generations, as boomers and their parents grooved to the instrumental beat.

Ravi Shankar (December 11, age 92)
Few people outside of India knew much about sitar music before Ravi Shankar entered the world stage in the late 1950s. When George Harrison of The Beatles went to study sitar with him in 1966, Ravi’s influence on popular music was secured for all time.

Ravi Shankar appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. He also played at Woodstock in 1969.

Lee Dorman (December 22, age 70)
Many boomers would be hard-pressed to recall Lee Dorman as his was hardly a household name. Add that he was the bassist for Iron Butterfly and strains of that famous riff from In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida will swirl through your boomer brain.

Science and Technology
Inventions, space travel, medical breakthroughs and more punctuated the boomer years. Now, many of those pioneers are passing on, but their contributions that have forever changed our world will always be remembered.

Eugene Polley (May 20, age 96)
The vast majority of us could not place a face or an accomplishment to the name of Eugene Polley, yet his invention paved the way for a generation of electronics that followed. Engineer Polley invented the Zenith Flash-Matic TV remote in 1955, the first wireless unit ever realized.

Sally Ride (July 23, age 61)
Herself a boomer, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space (1983). She was an educator and a physicist aside from being an astronaut, but became more than that as a symbol for the advancement of women everywhere.

Chalmers Loughridge (August 12, age 93)
Dr. Loughridge pioneered emergency medicine in Alexandria, Virginia the early 1960s. Many boomer lives are routinely saved in emergency rooms today because of the work done fifty years ago by Dr. Loughridge.

Neil Armstrong (August 25, age 82)
At least two-thirds of boomers were old enough to watch the entire Space Race unfold, launch by launch, on our TV screens. Though we watched in awe from the Gemini missions of the early 1960s through to the Apollo mission moon landings in the 1970s, it was Apollo 11, with Neil Armstrong on board, that captured the world’s attention when he stepped on the surface of the moon. Read Mister B’s earlier tribute at: Boomers Say Good-Bye to High-Flying Hero

Politics and Popular Culture
In addition to TV and music, our popular culture was formed by the literary arts as well as politics and the news of the day. Some of the people who passed across our news bulletins have now passed on, triggering memories of days gone by.

Charles Colson (April 21, age 80)
Serving as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to ’73, Colson was sometimes referred to as Nixon’s “hatchet man.” He is forever known in history as one of Watergate Seven, having plead guilty to a charge of obstruction of justice for his role in attempting to defame Daniel Ellsberg when the military analyst released The Pentagon Papers. Colson became a born-again evangelical Christian while serving his prison sentence. After prison he devoted his life to his Prison Fellowship outreach program, which attempted to promote prisoner rehabilitation and reform of the prison system.

Ray Bradbury (June 5, age 91)
There may not be a boomer out there who did not read Fahrenheit 451 (1953) while attending high school or college. Mr. Bradbury created worlds of science fiction in books that both expanded our vision of what could be while sounding a warning about our possible future fate.

Helen Gurley Brown (August 13, age 90)
Ms. Brown became a political figure in her own right when she published Sex and the Single Girl in 1962. In 1965 she became the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, claiming women could “have it all” — meaning “love, sex and money.” As such, her name is often associated with the Sexual Revolution as she strived to give women positive role models and advocated for women’s sexual freedom.

George McGovern (October 21, age 90)
Other than Bobby Kennedy in 1968, there is perhaps no other political figure before Barack Obama who galvanized the youth vote at a grassroots level as well as George McGovern did when he ran for president as the Democratic nominee in 1972. Feelings about Vietnam had completely divided the nation, and Senator McGovern stood firmly against the war, giving the Peace Movement a figurehead behind which to rally. Despite the support of much of the youth of the day, he was handed one of the biggest defeats in presidential election history, as Richard Nixon easily won reelection. It would take another three years after Nixon’s inauguration before the war was ended. McGovern resumed his passionate opposition to the War in the Senate, as well as championing issues relating to agriculture, food, nutrition and hunger. He won reelection in 1974 and retired from Congress after losing a bid for reelection in 1980.

Of course, the list continues on and on. We boomers were fortunate to be the first generation to grow up with regular television and amazing technological advances, and the first generation to benefit from expanding educational opportunities. Together they helped present individuals on our stage, front and center, to state their case, entertain us, expand our imaginations and educate our minds. For this, we boomers will always be grateful as it has helped to make us the generation we are today.

Which members of the memorial roll call for 2012 influenced your lives, boomers?

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Mister Boomer Reflects on Mister Boomer 2012

We have reached the end of another year, so in keeping with tradition, it is time to reflect on the year that has just passed. In reviewing the posts of 2012, Mister B has selected some of his favorites that explored the mission of misterboomer.com and added a modicum of fun to our boomer world.

Without further ado, here are ten of Mister B’s favorite posts — in no particular order — for your consideration. It’s a chance to read some posts that you may have missed, or go back to others that may have spurred some boomer memories during the past year:

Will Boomers Say “Shine On Brightly?”
In the early boomer years, light bulbs were just what they were: a utilitarian device we took for granted. Now that light bulbs are changing for the first time in over 100 years, Mister Boomer reprises the history of the light bulb here and takes a look at our relationship with it through our boomer years.

Builds Strong Lawyer Fees 12 Ways
Hostess Brands, Inc., parent company of Wonder Bread, filed for bankruptcy in January of 2012. Little did we know at the time that the company would fold before year’s end. Visions of Wonder Bread sparked more than a few memories for Mister B.

Boomers Got Silly
At the mid-year point of 2012, boomers marked the 60th anniversary of Silly Putty. Here Mister B relates the origins of the substance and the role it played in his childhood and that of other boomers.

Boomers Saw Their Lives Pictured in Nice Bright Colors
Throughout our boomer years, Kodak was synonymous with photography, but the company went bankrupt in 2012. Mister B looked back at the company’s halcyon days in the boomer years, relating a few Kodak memories in the process.

Boomers in the House: Square Footage Changes With the Generations
A visit to the mature neighborhoods of bungalows, Cape Cods and ranch models of our boomer youth reveals some truth about personal space in the houses in which we grew up. Here Mister B relates the difference between what today’s generation expects in term of home space as opposed to what our parents — and subsequently boomers — expected when they were house shopping.

Where Were You in October 1962?
It was October of 1962, and the air was filled with change and promise. That one month out of that year was so packed with historical and cultural significance that, fifty years later, Mister Boomer looked back with no small measure of awe and inspiration as having bore witness to it.

Boomers Changed Their Perception of Aliens
Mister Boomer finds out that when it comes to space aliens, what goes around comes around. Here he explores how aliens were presented in film and TV throughout our boomer years, and how that related to our expanding understanding of the human condition.

Boomers and Summer Songs: Will I See You In September?
As the summer of 2012 approached, Mister Boomer took a look at the phenomenon of summer songs. Here he relates some of the most memorable ones from our boomer years, and reveals some memories that several have triggered.

Boomers Challenged the Male-Female Status Quo … Slowly
Music has always reflected the era and culture in which it was produced, and there is probably no better example of that than the music of the Boomer Generation. In this post, Mister Boomer explored how women were perceived in our society as portrayed in our music of the day. As times changed and the Women’s Movement coalesced, so did the lyrics of our popular songs.

Boomers Misheard Lyrics Over and Dover Again
A mondegreen can be defined as an unintentional mishearing and misinterpretation of (usually) poem lines or song lyrics that changes the original meaning of the phrase. Here Mister B took a fun romp with some of the most famous mondegreens of our boomer years, and explored what modern technology may mean for the future of misquoting from our favorite songs.

We’ll see you in 2013, boomers!

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies,Music,Pop Culture History,Space,Suburbia,TV and have Comments Off on Mister Boomer Reflects on Mister Boomer 2012