Boomers Had Their Sights Set on the Moon

It was February of 1967, and the Space Race was on in earnest. The Soviets had beat the U.S. in launching the first satellite into orbit (1947), the first man into space (1961), the first woman into space (1963), and the first to soft-land an unmanned craft on the moon that transmitted photos of the lunar surface back to Earth (1966). The U.S. had all their hopes to catch up in a hurry entwined with NASA’s manned mission to the moon. The decade was moving on, and the next steps by NASA were critical to fulfilling President John Kennedy’s 1961 challenge of sending men to the moon and back before the end of the decade.

NASA was in the middle of sending five planned missions to photograph the entirety of the moon’s surface. The goal of the first three, the first of which was launched in 1966, was to scout for safe landing sites for the upcoming Apollo missions. In February of 1967, Lunar Orbiter 3 was launched. The final two explored scientific observational objectives, and flew polar orbits.

Since photos taken by the spacecraft were to be analyzed for potential landing sites, cameras equipped with sufficient resolution needed to be installed. Another engineering hurdle to overcome was a method to compensate for the speed of the spacecraft while taking the photos. Lunar Orbiter 3 was equipped with a medium resolution lens (80mm) and a high-resolution lens (610mm).

From February 15 to February 23, photo data was acquired according to a programmed automatic sequence and imaged onto 70 mm film. There was no viable digital photography technology in 1967. As a result, the spacecraft was outfitted with automatic film development. The processed film was then optically scanned and transmitted back to Earth as a video signal. On Earth, the signal was captured and fed into what was termed ground reconstruction equipment (GRE), which reassembled the signal data onto 35mm film positive subframes. Each photo required 26 individual subframes to produce a complete photograph, and 86 subframes for higher resolution images. The combined subframes produced a 20 x 24 inch format, from which contact negatives were made.

The spacecraft’s primary mission was deemed successful, despite the film advance mechanism’s spotty performance throughout the duration. However, the process functioned well enough until March 4, when the film advance motor burned out. Approximately 25% of the captured data was left unprocessed. All in all, the mission produced 149 medium resolution images and 477 high resolution images. The excellent quality of the images allowed for resolution down to one meter, an amazing feat considering they were taken from orbit. Combined with the photos from the first two Orbiters, 99% of the moon’s surface had been photographed. NASA chose eight preliminary landing sites, including the Sea of Tranquility site where Apollo 11 would land in 1969.

Lunar Orbiter 3 was also collecting data on the lunar gravitational field, radiation intensity and micrometeoroid impacts. For this task, the craft was positioned in a near equatorial orbit. The photographic data was to confirm the previous search data for possible site landings by Lunar Orbiter 1 and 2. The additional data from Lunar Orbiter 3 was vital to the planning of the manned Apollo missions set to begin two years from that point.

It continued to gather lunar data orbiting the moon. In August of 1967, NASA ground control sent the spacecraft into a circular orbit to simulate the trajectory of an Apollo spacecraft. It crashed into the lunar surface, as planned, on October 9, 1967. Each of the orbiters were designed to crash into the lunar surface so future missions would not have navigational or communication hazards to manage on their approach to the surface.

Mister Boomer, like most boomers, watched every single manned mission launch with great interest. However, interim unmanned missions were not given the same TV and press fanfare. These particular missions, though crucial for future moon landings, went under the radar for Mister B, until he researched them now.

How about you, boomers? Did you follow the preparatory unmanned missions by NASA in the 1960s?

Boomers Watched the Kennedy Inauguration

Every four years, on January 20, we inaugurate the President and Vice President at a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Harry Truman was president when the first boomers were born. In 1949, he was the first president to give his inaugural address to a televised audience. However, seeing as the first boomers were three years old, it wouldn’t be until 1953 that early-era boomers could watch the inaugural address of the next president, Dwight Eisenhower.

Nonetheless, for many of us mid-era boomers, it was the inauguration of John Kennedy in 1961 that we most likely remember. The Kennedy inauguration was memorable on several levels. His address, after all, gave us the much-quoted speech where the newly-minted president said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Kennedy was at that time the youngest person ever to hold the office, and the first Catholic ever elected president.

Long before Kennedy’s inauguration, it had become traditional for the president to wear a top hat as part of his ceremonial garb. The top hat, once a must-have in formal wear, had fallen out of fashion since the 1920s, but presidents upheld the tradition until Dwight Eisenhower chose to wear his everyday Homburg hat instead. Boomers certainly recall that men wore hats on a daily basis in the 1940s and ’50s. Kennedy, however, was known more for not wearing a hat on the campaign trial. That prompted one part of the population to appeal to the incoming president to return to the top hat tradition. Kennedy’s tailor agreed, and it was decided that Kennedy would wear a top hat and formalwear that had the traditional day stripe up the side of each leg.

Kennedy is pictured riding in a convertible car in the traditional parade up to the Capitol with his top hat, but he mostly used it to wave to the crowd. Then, in a controversial move, Kennedy chose not to wear the hat at his swearing in ceremony and inaugural address. Ever since that day, there has been a contingent of people who say the president hastened the demise of men’s hats. However, subsequent scholarship has noted that hat wearing was already on the decline among college students in the1920s, and there was a sharp decline in men wearing hats after the War. The Boomer Era was a break from the old ways, including hat wearing. John Kennedy was not the catalyst for the end of daily hat wearing, but merely among the growing group of men who broke the tradition in their own lives for personal choice.

Galas and balls were a part of inaugurations since the first one was held for George Washington. During the Great Depression, presidents Herbert Hoover, then Franklin Roosevelt, held balls as charity fundraisers in a time when people were in deep need of assistance. Harry Truman brought them back after the War, and the number of balls increased in the 1950s and ’60s. Eisenhower had two inaugural balls for his first term, and four for his second. John Kennedy had five.

Kennedy’s ties with Hollywood performers paid off for his pre-inaugural gala. Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford put together a star-studded event the night before the inauguration, funded by John Kennedy’s father, Joseph. On the bill was Sinatra, Lawrence Olivier, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Ethel Merman, Jimmy Durante, Gene Kelly, Milton Berle, Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis, and Bette Davis. The band leader was Leonard Bernstein. Held at the National Armory on the evening of January 19, a raging snowstorm kept some from attending, while Ethel Merman performed in the clothes she wore at the dress rehearsal since she could not risk a trip to her hotel and back.

Since the Kennedy inauguration, traditions and inaugural balls varied in size and scope. Jimmy Carter chose to reduce the formality of the inauguration, and asked only $25 per ticket for his inaugural ball. Ronald Reagan expanded the number of inaugural balls (and held the most lavish and expensive ball), but George Bush cut them back. Bill Clinton had fourteen at his inauguration.

Despite the pomp and circumstances surrounding the inauguration, boomers have born witness to our shared history, and will do so once again this week. Joe Biden will represent the 14th president inaugurated since the dawn of the Boomer Era.

What inaugurations come to mind for you, boomers? What is the first inauguration you recall watching on TV?