Boomers Will Recall 1966

Hey, boomers! By now most of us have made our peace with the fact that we’ve been around for more than a half century; The oldest boomers will turn 70 this year, while the youngest will reach 52. A lot has changed in the past 50 years, and has discussed many of these changes through the years. Now let’s take a look back at the way we lived 50 years ago. Set your Wayback Machines to the year 1966 and let’s take a look at what was going on in April, May and June of that year…

On the Domestic Front
• Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States.
• The Uniform Time Act was signed by the president, which simplified how daylight saving time was applied (April 13).
• U.S. population surpassed 190 million.
• The median income was $7,400, but more women were returning to the workforce, which helped boost household income by another $2,000. By 1967, 35% of women were working compared with 23% in 1957.
• The average price of a gallon of gas was 32¢.
•  The average price of a new home was $22,300, but on the resale market, the average was $14,200.
• The Supreme Court ruled that police must inform suspects of their rights upon arrest — known ever since as Miranda rights (June 13).
• Ronald Reagan became the governor of California (June 7).
• The National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded (June 30).

• 250,000 U.S. troops were in Vietnam, including many early boomers (April 29).
• Anti-war protests were increasing. In May, tens of thousands protested at the White House and the subsequent rally at the Washington Monument (May 15).
• U.S. planes began bombing Hanoi (June 29).

• Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde was released (May 16, though not advertised until June 25); completing his trilogy of rock albums, starting with Bringing It All Back Home (1965) and Highway 61 Revisited (1966). Two songs from the album became top-twenty singles hits: Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 and I Want You. Well received in 1966, Rolling Stone magazine named it number nine on its list of  The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Pet Sounds was released by The Beach Boys (May 16). Unlike Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, it received a lukewarm reception. It was heralded as the first rock concept album, even though it does not have a predetermined narrative. It is cited as the beginning of the psychedelic era, and took rock from music to be danced to, to music for listening. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named it number two on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Hit singles from the album included Sloop John B, Wouldn’t It Be Nice and God Only Knows.

Space Race
• Russia’s Luna 10 successfully orbited the moon (April10), becoming the moon’s first artificial satellite.
• In the Gemini IX program, Gene Cernan became the second U.S. astronaut to perform a space walk (June 5). His extravehicular activities were supposed to include some work, and planned to expand NASA’s knowledge before a moon launch. But a bloated and torn spacesuit, darkness and a fogged visor prevented him from doing much but float around, as his U.S. and Soviet predecessors had done before him. Nevertheless, he logged two hours and ten minutes outside his spacecraft. Cernan later became the last man to walk on the moon in the Apollo 17 mission (December 19, 1972).

• Many fashion historians believe 1966 was the pivotal moment in which styles of the 1950s were replaced with those of the 1960s.
•  The shiny vinyl look for boots, hats and rain gear was trending. Flowers and patterned shirts and pants were in vogue for men and women,
• The mini skirt, popularized by Mary Quant in 1965, reached peak popularity.

Mister Boomer had one more year of elementary school before entering high school. He was aware of much of what was going on in the country and the world by then: his class had written letters to relatives of classmates sent to Vietnam; he watched every space launch and followed newspaper stories about the Space Race; he heard the popular music of the day on his transistor radio, and Brother Boomer bought both Dylan’s Rainy Day Women and The Beach Boys’ Wouldn’t It Be Nice on 45 RPM records. Nonetheless, it was a time for Mister B to still be a kid. That summer his family would take a cross-country trip to Yellowstone National Park in their 1966 Ford.

Fifty years ago, 1966 was a pot on the stove on the verge of boiling over. The clash between generations was growing, and boomers were about to play a major role in politics, civil rights, fashion and music.

What do you recall about 1966, boomers?

Boomers Benefited from Space Products

Fifty five years ago this past week, Russian army major Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. Alan Shepherd, the first American in space, followed a month later. Thus began the Space Race. Congress got on board with funding this competition between the world’s two super powers, and continued as long as NASA articulated the clear mission outlined by President Kennedy, to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

After Neil Armstrong did walk on the moon in 1968, and subsequent moon missions followed, the race had been won. Public interest waned without the spectacular goals of the first decade and Congress began cutting funding for space exploration.

One of the arguments for continuing to fund space exploration was, and still is, that the country would benefit from the research and development necessary to tackle the challenging issues faced in living and working in space. The fact is, the lives of every U.S. citizen, if not most of the world, has been touched by products that were developed as a direct result of space research. Among these products are advancements in solar panel energy, water purification systems, implantable heart monitors, cancer therapy, computing systems, enriched baby food and even a global search-and-rescue system, among others.

Specifically, there are products that come closer to home for boomers and every American:

• Cordless tools: NASA needed a way for astronauts to be able to work outside their spacecraft, whether on the moon or in space, and having tools with an extension cord was not going to fill the bill. The original cordless tools came about thanks to the first moon landing.

• Digital thermometers; Boomers recall the glass tubes filled with mercury or mercurochrome that their doctors and mothers slipped under their tongues to take their temperature. The thermometer was disinfected with alcohol after each use. Today’s moms use the technology developed by NASA for use on the first space station, Skylab. A digital thermometer probe could be inserted into the ear and a temperature reading was returned in two seconds. Disposable probe covers eliminated the need for astronauts to disinfect the thermometer after each use.

• Memory foam; Again dating back to the first moon launch, NASA was looking for a way to cushion astronauts from the G-forces during blastoff, but also to soften the as yet unknown impact of landing on the moon’s surface. Researchers came up with what they called “slow springback foam” for the astronauts’ chairs. The foam would conform to the astronauts’ bodies, and spring back when the pressure and weight was lifted. Today we know it as memory foam, and it’s used in a variety of products, most notably, shoe insoles and mattresses.

• Scratch-resistant glass; Space exploration has been responsible for a variety of coatings for glass and metal. In this case, a solution was needed to protect the glass from space dust and debris that bombarded it during flight. The Foster Grant Corporation was the first to license NASA’s coating for use on sunglasses. Today almost all eyewear has a derivative of the scratch-resistant coating that was developed more than fifty years ago.

• Smoke detectors; The tragedy of the Apollo 1 fire on a test run in 1967, and on-board fires in later missions, brought home the need for a detector that could warn astronauts. In 1970, NASA partnered with the Honeywell Corporation to develop smoke detectors that also detected certain gas and radiation levels for the Skylab space station. Today many states and municipalities require homeowners to have smoke detectors in their homes.

• Cochlear implants; A NASA engineer’s use of a hearing aid led him to research how NASA sensing and telemetry equipment might help the deaf and hard of hearing. Today people who could not hear are discovering sound for the first time thanks to the cochlear implants that were developed from research NASA needed to create sensing equipment and navigational aids.

Most boomers recalled tasting freeze-dried ice cream at some point in their school lives, much to their dismay. Freeze-dry technology was developed for space travel. Mister Boomer recalls his family getting cereal with freeze-dried strawberries in the late sixties. However, contrary to what many boomers believed, Tang was not developed for space travel. It was invented by General Foods in 1957 and later sent on John Glenn’s Gemini space mission, and subsequent missions, to give astronauts some variety from the water and powdered milk that was the basis of their drinking choices. Teflon was also not developed for space. DuPont invented teflon in 1938, far removed from any space program yet conceived.

There were, however, many other enhancements and inventions that are now part of our lives, that could only be thought of as science fiction when we were young boomers. Today the promise of many more live-saving and life-changing products in the fields of health and medicine, transportation, engineering, computing and software are possible from the research needed for deep space exploration and landing on Mars. In fact, advancements are already being translated for public consumption. One out of every 1,000 patents issued each year are to NASA scientists and researchers. In robotics, exoskeletons that are being designed to assist astronauts in various atmospheric conditions are now helping paraplegics to walk; water purification research is helping countries around the world to filter contaminants from available water; and advances in miniaturization are entering the world of consumer and home electronics.

Boomers watched Star Trek every week in the early sixties, and heard the show’s opening narration of space being the final frontier. What we’ve discovered is that the further we aim out into space, the more we help ourselves back on Earth.

Are you aware of a space technology in your lives, boomers?