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 Moved to Other States

It’s Thanksgiving weekend, and each year people travel home or to visit relatives and friends. Despite a worldwide pandemic, this year is no different, with an estimated 50 million people are traveling by air. While the pandemic portion of the scenario is a topic for another day, what struck Mister Boomer about holiday travel was how many people live far enough away from their childhood homes that they need to take a plane to get there.

Boomers weren’t the first migratory generation by a longshot, but circumstances combined during the boomer years to facilitate moving from one state to another. In fact, state-to-state migration has been happening since there were states. Patterns of this migration follow exactly what you might expect — people moved where the jobs were plentiful. According to U.S. Census data, the majority of people migrating from one state to another between 1930 and 1940 were moving from the mostly rural center of the country outward toward the coasts, where larger cities were located. Between 1940 and 1950, the move outward to the coasts continued, but people also moved to the upper Midwest, where numerous factories had been located. This trend continued between 1950 and 1960.

Between 1960 and 1970, when boomers — the generation with the highest population — began reaching the age of adulthood, migration patterns began to reverse, moving outward from the larger population areas. Some call it a “back to the land” migration, but the data suggests that opportunities for a better career and/or life were the major reasons for migratory moves. As technology replaced manufacturing as a major engine of the economy in the 1980s, boomers in the prime of their careers could pick up and go to the jobs they were offered, in some cases leaving one migratory state for another.

Compared to previous generations, when the twentieth century rolled around, more boomer men and women went to college. Many boomers will tell you they were the first in their families to attend college, and many of them got their education in another state. After college, some boomers chose to stay in the area, or moved to other states for job opportunities.

Boomers also had personal transportation. In the 1950s, the Ford Motor Company saw the advantage of advertising the sale of two cars for a family, so the housewife had a way to shop and run errands while her husband was at work. Some of those second cars became the first cars for young boomers. (Mister Boomer was raised in an area where no family had more than one car, until boomers reached driving age.) At that point, used cars were plentiful and cheap. Boomers could buy and maintain their own vehicle (or with parental assistance) so they could drive to jobs or college.

A third circumstance that facilitated an easy migration from state-to-state was the completion of the Interstate Highway System in the early 1960s. To sum up the reasons why boomers were able to easily migrate to other states:
• Personal transportation was readily available
• Road travel was simplified by a new highway system
• To pursue higher education
• To pursue job and career opportunities

In terms of migration, Mister Boomer and his siblings may or may not be typical of the Boomer Generation. Mister B grew up with a large extended family that lived fairly close to one another; some aunts and uncles lived within blocks of each other throughout their lives. Yet as cousins grew up and attended college, were drafted into the Army or pursued other opportunities, several began moving away, including Mister B and his siblings. Currently Mister B and his two siblings live in three different states, none of which are the state in which they were all born.

How about you, boomers? Did you leave your home state for greener pastures and now go home for the holidays? Are your children living out of state and coming home to see you?