Fifty years ago today, a guy crawled up on top of an 70+ foot high Roman candle knowing that someone would light the fuse and blow him into space riding something called “Freedom 7″.
In April 1961 the Bay of Pigs invasion had failed and the old Senators played their first game as the new Minnesota Twins. The December 1960 release of Exodus was still on many silver screens. You could smoke, and there were powder rooms.
In my hometown of Minneapolis the top ten on the chart of radio station KDWB 63 included Roy Oribson’s “Running Scared” and “Runaway” by Del Shannon, “Hello Mary Lou” by Ricky Nelson, and Eddy Arnold’s “Just Call Me Lonesome”. JFK was President and in February a new pop combo called The Beatles performed for the first time at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. Princess Diana would not be born until July. The movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s wouldn’t be on the screen until November! Later also were West Side Story, The Misfits, The Parent Trap.
In the US another ride of Freedom began. The “Freedom Riders” started a bus trip to test the limits on segregation on interstate bus rides set by the Supreme Court’s integration ruling in Boynton v. Virginia. On 14 May a bus would be fire-bombed near Anniston, Alabama and civil rights protesters beaten by a mob.
On TV this week you could watch Sea Hunt, Mavrick, Wagon Train, The Rifleman, Have Gun Will Travel - I’m sensing a theme… Hazel, Red Skelton, Dick Van Dyke. I am told I used to stand in front of a tiny screen with my hand on my cheek just like Jack Benny.
We had a pink and purple DeSoto. Not kidding.
And who can forget the Flintstone’s Winston cigarette commercial? Banned, actually.
Is this where I got the idea to integrate Mystic Monk commercials into my posts? Buy some now, by the way.
Ronald Regan spoke out against socialized medicine in 1961. Listen. It’s eerie.
Many of the things on the shelves at the grocer look familiar 50 years later. Also, the backslash, invented in 1960, was still pretty much unknown. A gallon of gas in the USA was ¢27. George Clooney would be born on 6 May and Barack Obama’s mother was pregnant and maybe in Hawaii.
John XXIII was Pope and the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal had not yet been issued.
We lose perspective on how small the actual capsule was in which Astronaut Alan Sheppard rode into space on top of a Redstone rocket on 5 May 1961. The Mercury was a little large than your refrigerator welded onto your washing machine. And about as sophisticated. Your wrist watch or TiVo is probably more complex than its electronics.
This little capsule, just big enough for a man and a big parachute, was set on top of a short range surface to surface ballistic missile rocket built by Chrysler. Even though it was for Mercury, it was not built by Lincoln or Ford, come to think about it. The steering was made by Ford.
Anyway… picture yourself strapped into your refrigerator sitting on top of a 70 foot tube filled with 11,135 pounds of ethyl alcohol, 25,280 pounds of liquid oxygen and 790 pounds of hydrogen peroxide with the blast yield of 500 tons of TNT or a small nuclear warhead. WAHOOO!
Fifty years ago today, Alan Sheppard rode Liberty 7 into space.
Then he had to come back down… at 11g. Think about the 3000 degree temperature, just outside your refrigerator of 1.7 m³ of habitable volume.
In 1971 Alan Sheppard walked on the surface of the Moon during the mission of Apollo 14.
He got on top of a 360 feet tall exploding tube filled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, and, having traveled the quarter of a million miles in a can the size of a couple Lincoln Town cars with the computing power of your mobile phone and far less memory, stepped out of his protective environment and walked in a few hundred degrees of heat on the lunar landscape in a place named after a 15th century map maker and Camaldolese monk named Fra Mauro. This is where Apollo 13 was supposed to go. Their suits sealed up with zippers… mainly. Sheppard managed to get off the surface of the Moon in the Lincoln Towncar sized Antares with an explosion caused by Aerozine 50 and N2O4 great enough to break the pull of gravity and, with the other two guys, Roosa and Mitchell, came back in one Lincoln Town Car sized can called Kitty Hawk and landed in the ocean after the usual hitting the tiny angle for reentry and enduring the melting heat of friction against the atmosphere.
All without dying.
This year the USA’s manned space program was killed by Pres. Obama. The next Space Shuttle is the last Space Shuttle. And it is delayed.
But in 1961 the first American had a ride into sub-orbital space.