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 Adapted Their 45s

There are many objects that were commonplace in our boomer years that have either disappeared from view or have taken a back seat at best. A case in point is the 45 rpm adapter. Its shape is immediately identifiable to boomers, yet today it is mainly audiophiles who know of its purpose.

45 RPM recdord adapters
Here are two 45 rpm record adapters that Mister Boomer owns. The first one slips over the spindle to play one record at a time. The second, Hutchinson adapter, is meant to be inserted into the middle of the record. It’s the classic shape people recognize as a boomer object.

The story of how it came into being is an interesting one, and its origins go back to before the first boomer hit the scene. Throughout the early 1900s and into the 1920s, there was only one size of record, and that was a 10-inch disc with a small hole in the center that slipped over the phonograph spindle. The record speed was played at 78 revolutions per minute (rpm), and this became the de facto standard.

Throughout the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, there were two companies that dominated the phonograph market: RCA Victor and Columbia. Each manufactured machines and created record companies to produce the records to play on them. Enmeshed in a competitive battle, each worked to find ways to get one leg up on the competition. In 1948, their paths veered when Columbia introduced the first “long-playing” 12-inch album, played at 33 1/3 rpm. This speed change would require all future phonographs to play at either 78 or 33 1/3 rpm. RCA went a different route and created a new format, which they defined as a 7-inch record with a large, 1 1/2 inch hole in the center. Further, it was meant to be played at 45 rpm. RCA manufactured the phonographs to play their new-format records. Shortly after, RCA introduced the first drop changer spindle that allowed the listener to stack multiple records all at once. The machine would drop each record one after the other to be played. This increased the amount of time that you could listen to music before having to get up and change the records.

By the 1950s, all brands of phonographs had to allow for the possibility of playing records at 78, 33 1/3 and 45 rpm. Since RCA was a major figure in releasing popular music, even if your record player was not an RCA brand, it needed to find a way to play RCA 45 rpm records, too. Over time, other record companies began to produce records in the format, too. Phonograph companies supplied spindles made of metal or hard plastic to fit over their own, but as can be expected, over time the mechanics of it broke down or the spindle was lost. So the stage was set for the Boomer Generation and the dawn of rock & roll to catapult the use of the 45 rpm adapter into an everyday object.

In 1950, the first separate adapter was released by the Webster Chicago Company. It was made of zinc and, once inserted, was nearly impossible to remove without breaking the record. Soon after, companies experimented with various shapes; ideally, the adapter needed to be easily removed and reused, yet be strong enough to play the record without wobble, and help to separate records when they were stacked so the drop function of the phonograph would operate correctly. Eventually, three major styles with a different number of prongs surfaced as viable in the marketplace, including the spiral Hutchinson model many people identify with the boomer era. It was named after New Jersey inventor Tom Hutchinson, a technician at the Walco Corporation, a company that manufactured cartridges, phonograph needles and phonograph cleaning accessories.

By the 1980s, first cassette tapes and then CDs put an end to vinyl 45 rpm record sales, and with it, the need for multiple adapters in every household. Many boomers had dozens of the plastic inserts permanently placed into their favorite 45s, so they could drop them on the record player at any time.

Mister Boomer’s family received their first record player as a hand-me-down from a cousin when she bought a newer model. It was the portable box variety that looked like a small suitcase when closed. Once opened, the center spindle was ready to receive a stack of 45s, as long as you had the 45 adapters in place. Fortunately, those were inexpensive and readily available. The family needed to go buy some records, so they went to the five and dime and bought a package of a dozen records and adapters. That first package that Mister Boomer’s family bought had a 45 rpm by the Beatles in it. Therefore, She’s a Woman was one of the first 45 rpms that Brother Boomer slipped an adapter in and played in the Mister B household.

How about you, boomers? What do you recall about 45 rpm adapters?