Boomers dreamt of the Moon throughout their youth … popular music is filled with Moon references. It is safe to say once President John F. Kennedy issued a challenge to U.S. scientists in 1961 — to safely land men on the Moon and bring them back to Earth within the decade — boomers were entranced.
Boomers probably did not realize that when Kennedy set out his challenge that the US and USSR were already deeply engaged in the Space Race to the Moon. In fact, when Kennedy spoke, the US had not yet had a successful unmanned mission to the Moon. The USSR had beaten the US with the first satellite launch (1957); first spacecraft to flyby the Moon (1959); first pictures of the farside of the Moon (1959); first man in space (1961); and first woman in space (1963).
During the early to mid-60s, the two countries failed on as many missions as were successful. The US got back in the Moon race with Ranger 7 (July 28, 1964), which intentionally crashed into the Moon and provided the first close-up pictures.
On February 3, 1966, the Soviets had accomplished the first soft landing on the Moon, sending back the first pictures from the surface. The US would need to catch up in a big way. The US countered with its first soft landing on the Moon with Surveyor 1 (May 30, 1966), sending back its own pictures from the surface. Over the next two years, both countries launched additional missions to orbit the Moon and map the surface, especially for scoping out possible landing spots.
The US gained the upper hand with Apollo 8 (December 24, 1968) when astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr. and William Anders became the first humans to orbit the Moon. After looping it ten times, they returned safely to Earth.
Finally, as every boomer remembers, on July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed safely on the Moon. Neil Armstrong stepped out on the surface, uttering his historic phrase, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” Buzz Aldrin would follow Armstrong to walk on the surface.
One year later, Apollo 12 landed on the Moon (November 17, 1969). Apollo 16 (April 16, 1972) landed another set of astronauts, and Apollo 17 (December 10, 1972) brought the first scientist to walk on the Moon. All told, in the four years of Apollo missions, the US saw 12 men step onto the surface of the Moon. There has not been a human walking on the surface since.
Now, after 40 years, the US is poised to return to the moon with the Artemis program. In Greek mythology, Artemis was Apollo’s sister. Artemis 1, an unmanned spacecraft, is intended to circle the Moon and return. As of this writing, the launch of Artemis 1 has been delayed twice for mechanical issues, and currently, delayed because of Hurricane Ian approaching the west coast of Florida.
Artemis 2, planned for May 2024, will once again bring humans to orbit the Moon for the first time since 1972. If all goes well, Artemis 3 will land on the surface in 2025. NASA has announced that the Artemis program will see the first woman and first person of color on the Moon.
Mister Boomer was not aware of the many unmanned missions to the Moon in the 1950s and early ’60s at the time. He began his infatuation with space travel with the manned Gemini missions. Like most boomers — indeed most people — Mister B’s attention span wavered after the original Moon landing. The distractions of his teen years also contributed to his interest away from the additional Moon landings.
How about you, boomers? Has the Artemis program rekindled your interest in space travel? Were you following every landing on the Moon after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s initial walk?