Boomers Went To the Moon and Back

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?

Boomers Knew the First Ladies .. Or Did They?

Throughout American history, the wives of presidents varied in their approach to the situation in which they found themselves; some chose to be the veritable flower on the wall and remained out of public view as much as possible, while others took an active role toward championing a favorite cause that gave them a higher profile with the press and public. The four women who inhabited the office during the 1950s and ’60s, the boomer years, chose both paths.

Bess (Elizabeth) Truman
Wife of Harry Truman, she inhabited the office from 1945 to 1953. Bess preferred to not be in the spotlight and rarely spoke in public. In fact, she held only one press conference while her husband was president. She insisted that questions be written and given to her in advance so she could prepare short and succinct answers. She did not respond to additional requests from reporters.

She was, in some ways, the opposite of her predecessor, Eleanor Roosevelt. Bess hosted fundraising events and attended official White House dinners. However, she only remained in Washington, DC during the social season — when fundraisers took place — and remained at the Truman residence in Independence, Missouri the rest of each year.

Born in 1885, Bess was the longest living First Lady, passing away at age 97 in 1982. Harry died in 1972. A fun fact for boomers: when Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare Act into law in 1965, the very first two Medicare cards were issued to Harry and Bess Truman. They were on hand to accept them.

Mamie Eisenhower
Once Dwight D. Eisenhower took the oath of office in January 1953, his wife Mamie was with him throughout his tenure, from 1953 to 1961. Mamie was a private person, and as the wife of an Army officer — one who commanded the Allied troops during World War II no less — she was well aware of both the freedoms and constraints of a president’s wife. As such, she gladly accepted the duties of managing the White House staff, especially during formal dinners and entertaining. However, she ruffled some feathers in the Senate when she refused to allow Senator Joe McCarthy (yes, THAT Joe McCarthy) into the White House to attend those dinners. Conversely, she was known to order cakes from the White House chef, and hosted birthday parties celebrating the birthdays of White House staff in her charge.

After a nine year hiatus during the the war, Mamie reinstated the White House Easter Egg Roll in 1953. She made headlines then because for the first time in White House history, she invited African-American children to join in the fun on the White House lawn.

Mamie was perhaps the first fashion icon of the boomer first ladies in that she was a woman of the 1950s. She loved pink, and newspapers and magazines loved to feature her in the pink gown she wore during the inaugural balls, and the subsequent pink overcoat and handbag for which she became known.

Born in Iowa in 1896, Mamie and Dwight returned to their home in Kansas when he left the presidency. President Eisenhower died in 1969. Mamie continued for another decade, passing in 1979.

Jacqueline Kennedy
The public knew her as Jackie, and as her husband entered the office in 1961, she told the press her priority as First Lady was to take care of her husband and children. However, boomers remember her as perhaps the First Lady with the highest profile of any during the boomer years.

Jackie was known for her fashion sense, and promoted American fashion designers around the world. She was also a proponent of American art and historical preservation–and as such, was the first First Lady to hire a personal Press Secretary.

As First Lady, she was surprised that the furniture in the White House had no historical value, and she undertook the restoration of the White House as the People’s House. She was the first First Lady to win an Emmy award for her TV tour of the White House in 1962.

Of course, every boomer recalls the events surrounding the death of President Kennedy in 1963. She left the White House for the couple’s home in Georgetown, with her two children, Caroline and John Jr. Born in 1924, Jacqueline Kennedy died in New York City in 1994. She is the only First Lady of the boomer years who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Lady Bird (Claudia) Johnson
Thrust into her First Lady position after the death of President Kennedy in 1963, she would remain in the White House for her husband, Lyndon Johnson’s, tenure until January 1969.

Considered an excellent campaigner, she was instrumental in her husband’s run for Congress. When John Kennedy picked Lyndon Johnson as his running mate, Jacqueline was pregnant, so he asked Lady Bird to campaign for the ticket. She did so on her own, visiting more than half the states in the country.

Lady Bird expanded on Jackie Kennedy’s personal press secretary and established the first press office staff for the First Lady at the White House. She is also the first First Lady to actively lobby Congress. She regularly assisted her husband’s efforts behind the scenes on the War on Poverty and on behalf of civil rights legislation, and is credited with helping to create the Head Start preschool program.

Still, she is best known as the champion of conservation, pollution control and beautification efforts. She lobbied for the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which initiated plantings along America’s highways, and also limited the number of billboards that could appear in one place.

She continued to work on behalf of land preservation and beautification throughout her life. Lyndon Johnson died in 1973, but Lady Bird went on another 34 years, passing away in 2007.

Despite being married to men of either political party, the First Ladies of the prime boomer years were women of their age, setting examples for boomer girls in many ways. More than that, their accomplishments can be seen as a harbinger of things to come for women in the workplace, in politics and beyond.

Did you have a favorite First Lady in the 1950s and ’60, boomers? Did you watch Jacqueline Kennedy’s tour of the White House on TV?