Boomers Watched Shepard Go Into Space

In case you somehow missed it, Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world and former CEO of Amazon, rocketed into space in his own Blue Origin spacecraft this past week. As a nod to the beginning of American spaceflight, Bezos named his rocket and capsule New Shepard after Alan Shepard, the first U.S. astronaut to fly into space on May 5, 1961. (The first was Soviet Union cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin 23 days earlier.)

Obviously a lot has changed in space travel in the past 60 years, but since we boomers were around for the first launch and this first commercial launch with human passengers, it’s interesting to compare the two.

How the two flights compare:
Government agency mission control: National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA)
Project Name: Mercury 7
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, Florida
Flight Date: May 5, 1961
Rocket Base: Redstone booster
Capsule Name: Freedom 7
Pilot and Crew: Alan Shepard; capsule built for one occupant only
Duration of Flight: 15 1/2 minutes
Height Flown: 116 miles
Landing: Splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, 190 nautical miles from Cape Canaveral
Estimated cost of project: Congress allocated $277 million to start the program of putting a man into space

Private company mission control: Blue Origin (Amazon)
Project Name: New Shepard
Launch Site: Company owned facility in the West Texas desert, near Van Horn, Texas
Flight Date: July 20, 2021 (the 52-year anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission landing man on the moon)
Rocket Base: New Shepard reusable booster and capsule (the booster rocket lands safely back on earth after being disengaged from the capsule.)
Capsule Name: New Shepard (same as booster)
Pilot and Crew: Automated pilot, trajectory controlled from ground computers. Four passengers, including Wally Funk, now the oldest person to fly into space; Jeff Bezos and his brother, Mark; and Oliver Daemon, an 18-year old student from Amsterdam, the youngest person to fly into space
Duration of Flight: 11 minutes
Height Flown: 62 miles
Landing: Parachute landing near the company’s West Texas desert launch site
Estimated cost of project: Bezos isn’t saying, but has revealed that his upcoming project for orbital travel, the New Glenn, is clocking in at $2.5 billion.

Other fun facts:
• The number “seven” placed after each capsule name in the Project Mercury missions was a nod to the original seven men named as astronauts: Alan Shepard, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton. All seven made it into space, most more than once. Virgil “Gus” Grissom was scheduled to fly in the Apollo 1 mission to land on the moon, when he was killed in a fire in the command module along with Edward White and Roger Chaffee, during a test on the launchpad on January 27, 1967.

• Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark are now the first siblings to fly into space together.

• Blue Origin’s next project, New Glenn, is named after original Mercury astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn.

• John Glenn had been the oldest person to fly into space when he returned on a Space Shuttle mission on January 16, 1998. He was 77 at the time. Wally Funk, now the oldest person to fly into space, is 82.

• Wally Funk was a 22-year old pilot when she was chosen as one of 13 women (the Mercury 13) to be tested alongside the original seven male astronauts in February of 1961, in a privately-funded effort called the Lovelace Project. The 13 women ultimately chosen from a pool of 25 had all passed the same tests as the men; Wally Funk even had higher scores on some tests than John Glenn. NASA chose to cancel the program before the final test could be given, using the excuse that their astronauts had to be military test pilots. Consequently, the first woman in space was Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, on June 16, 1963. The first American woman in space was Astronaut Sally Ride, on January 16, 1978.

• On February 6, 1971, Alan Shepard not only walked on the moon, he hit two golf balls with a 6-iron he sneaked onboard.

• The first Space Race was between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. This Billionaire’s Space Race (as it has been termed) pits Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin against Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Virgin Galactic successful ushered two pilots, three mission specialists and Richard Branson into space on July 11, 2021. Blue Origin flew approximately 12 miles higher than the Virgin Galactic flight. SpaceX has yet to launch humans into space.

Mister Boomer saw the first Shepard launch on a TV wheeled into his classroom at school in 1961. He watched this past week’s Blue Origin launch as highlights on the internet. How about it, boomers? Did you watch both launches? Did it stir memories of those early days of space travel?

Boomers Want to Believe “The Truth is Out There”

After an extensive new investigation of reports by military personnel claiming to have observed unidentified flying objects (UFOs), a preliminary report has been released. So, are there flying saucers traipsing about our skies? The answer issued by the U.S. government is … maybe?

There have been reports of flying saucers by people in all walks of life throughout the boomer years and on to the present day. Is it any wonder, then, that boomers want some explanations to what they, their friends and families, have observed for the past 70-plus years?

The granddaddy of all reports is often referred to as the Roswell Incident. It was the summer of 1947 when a rancher near Roswell, New Mexico, discovered debris in a field that he could not identify. He notified the nearby Roswell Army Air Force Field, and base intelligence officers took over the investigation. On July 8, 1947, a press release was issued by the public information officer, Lt. Walter Haut. Haut’s release, approved by base commander Col. William Blanchard, stated the belief that the U.S. had recovered debris from the crash of a UFO — a flying saucer. The next day, another press release was issued, this one from higher up the ranks. Gen. Roger Ramsey released information that the debris was not from an alien spacecraft, but just a weather balloon that crashed in a thunderstorm. Nothing to see here, move along, folks.

By then it was too late; word had spread based on the original press release. The headline of the Roswell Daily Record on July 8, 1947 stated, “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region.”

The origin of the phrase “flying saucer” is in dispute. However, most sources agree the first mention of the phrase in U.S. newspapers happened a month before Roswell, in June of 1947. It was then that Kenneth Arnold, an experienced pilot from Idaho, was flying his small plane near Mt. Rainier in Washington, on his way to an air show in Oregon. Arnold spotted a group of objects traveling at a high rate of speed. He clocked the time the objects took to travel between Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier, and estimated the unidentified objects were flying at 1,700 mph — twice the speed of sound. It would be another four months — October of 1947 — before Chuck Yaeger would break the sound barrier in his historic flight. Arnold had stopped for refueling in Washington at an airfield where he was known, and told staff what he had seen. Word quickly spread and by the next day, Arnold was inundated with questions from West Coast press. He recounted his story, describing the group of aircraft as unidentified flying objects, adding they flew “like a saucer if you skip it across the water.” Newspapers interpreted that to mean, a flying saucer. The story headline in The Chicago Sun from June 26, 1947, stated, “Supersonic Flying Saucers Sighted by Idaho Pilot.”

The U.S. Air Force started investigating UFOs a year later, with a project named Operation Sign. In 1952, it was renamed Project Blue Book. There were more than twelve thousand reports of UFOs documented in Project Blue Book from 1947 to 1969, when the project ended. There are seven hundred of these incidents that remain “unidentified.”

Boomers know all too well the sci-fi movies of the 1950s that were spawned by these early sightings. Imaginations ran wild as the vast majority of the films did not surmise our visitors came in peace.

On a warm summer evening in the early 1960s, Mister Boomer engaged in a game of hide-and-seek. His neighborhood was filled with kids from the age of six to sixteen (baby boomers!). On his block, kids of various ages often played together, from baseball games to summer evening hide-and-seek extravaganzas (a large tree was the “safe” spot. The game had finished, and groups of parents could be heard on various porches, talking and drinking various beverages, from lemonade to beer and cocktails. Meanwhile Mister B, his sister and three other kids retreated into the coolness of the grass near the street, in front of his house. The kids lay on their backs, staring up at a clear sky that displayed more stars than usual, the view often muffled by air pollution in his industrial area.

Ever the dreamer, Mister B tried to identify constellations he had heard about in school. He thought he had found the Big Dipper, and the North Star. Intently observing his spot in the night sky, he saw three stars in a triangle form that appeared to flicker. He pointed it out to his neighborhood companions, and they remarked on the twinkling of these little stars. His sister was uninterested. Then, one star began to flicker brighter and faster. Mister B was not at all sure what he was seeing, but he kept watching as the white-yellow light became brighter, until the other two stars in the triangle began to do the same thing. They did not appear to be twinkling in unison, just fairly frantic flickering in varying degrees of brightness. A few seconds later, the original twinkler changed colors; first it went to blue, then to red, toggling between yellow, blue and red faster and faster until all of sudden, the three “stars” disappeared in three directions from their triangle formation. Jumping up from the grass, Mister B exclaimed, “Did you see that?” One of the kids shrieked and ran home. Another said he didn’t see it. Mister B told his parents, who were involved in conversation with neighbors. He was summarily dismissed and told it was time to go into the house.

Now, Mister Boomer isn’t saying he saw flying saucers. They were points of light, but they definitely moved extremely quickly once they left their origin spots in the sky. That qualifies as unidentified in Mister B’s book. Within a couple of years, his father had not one, but two UFO sightings he mentioned to the family. In fact, both were seen by multiple people who reported them to city police. One was a cigar shape, the other, more of the classic saucer. He was not at all convinced by the explanations given by local authorities.

Despite Project Blue Book investigations having been officially closed for more than four decades, UFO sightings continued. In recent years, there has been an increase in sightings by U.S. military personnel, which prompted the U.S. Senate to ask the Air Force to launch a new investigation of these reports since 2006. They started by rebranding UFO to UAPunidentified aerial phenomena. The preliminary report of their findings was released on June 25, 2021, and their findings were inconclusive. However, 18 of the incidents were classified as involving unusual movement or flight characteristics.

What the Air Force did report on these UAPs was:
• They pose no threat to national security
• There is no evidence of technology in use beyond present-day scientific knowledge
• There is no evidence of extraterrestrial origin
• There is no evidence that the 1947 Roswell, New Mexico incident was a UFO, and the government does not possess any dead alien bodies

How about it, boomers? Case closed? Did you or someone or know see a UFO/UAP in your boomer years?