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The Sixties: A Time in Transition

American Life II

The Gemini program was designed as a transitional mission between the Mercury and Apollo programs, primarily to test equipment and mission procedures in orbit around Earth and to train astronauts and ground crews for future Apollo missions. Gemini 11 was the ninth Earth-orbiting spacecraft of the Gemini series to send a crew into space. It was led by astronauts Charles "Pete" Conrad and Richard Gordon and launched on September 12, 1966 from Cape Canaveral. The three-day mission was designed to achieve a first orbit rendezvous and docking with the Agena target vehicle, to accomplish two Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) tests, to perform docking practice, docked configuration maneuvers, tethered operations, parking of the Agena target vehicle, and demonstrate an automatic reentry. These missions were reconnaissance missions similar to the Lunar Orbiters, but this time astronauts operated the space craft and tested a variety of entry and reentry procedures, as well as several scientific and technological experiments on board. One such on-board experiment tested the synergistic effects of zero-gravity and radiation on white blood cells.

For more information on NASA's EVA program, visit our blog at the link below and view videos of astronauts testing EVA suits:

Astronauts training for various Apollo missions enter the altitude chamber as part of their pre-flight testing. An Altitude Chamber (or hypobaric chamber), is used in aerospace testing to research, train, and simulate the effects of high altitude on the human body. Astronauts enter wearing masks, while the atmospheric pressure inside the chamber is reduced to simulate unhealthy altitudes. The astronauts are then asked to remove their masks and experience the symptoms of hypoxia. Hypoxia occurs when the body is not receiving an adequate amount of oxygen. The symptoms of Hypoxia include headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, a feeling of euphoria and nausea. More severe symptoms include loss of consciousness, seizures, coma, and death. Astronauts are monitored both from within and outside the chamber to make sure they are given an oxygen mask should the symptoms worsen. They are also monitored in terms of how well they handle the levels of pressure. 

In the spring of 1968, photographer Oliver Atkins captured this family who had set up camp in Resurrection City, Washington, D.C. This family here were among the thousands of protesters who took up residency on the Mall as part of the Poor People’s Campaign.

In December of 1967, when nearly 15 percent of all Americans and 40 percent of African Americans lived below the poverty line, Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) began organizing a national campaign against poverty.

King did not witness this new direction of the civil rights movement because he was assassinated weeks before the Poor People’s Campaign congregated and laid claim to the National Mall. Coretta Scott took up the cause in his honor and led the protesters who demanded federal action to alleviate poverty as SCLC leaders, joined by the National Welfare Rights Organization, lobbied Congress to introduce an “economic bill of rights” that would include $30 billion for the creation of employment programs and low-income housing and a guaranteed minimum annual income for all Americans.

In addition to Coretta Scott King, the SCLC, and the National Welfare Rights Organization, numerous activist groups and leaders joined the campaign, including Jesse Jackson, members of the United Auto Workers, and the Washington, D.C., chapter of the New York-based anarchist group, “Up Against the Wall.” Campaigners occupied the National Mall for over a month, enduring heavy rains as they lobbied congress and marched through Washington spreading awareness of the cause. But after suffering a series of setbacks—from muddy conditions and a lack of press coverage to conflicting strategies and the assassination of Robert Kennedy—demonstrators lost morale, and the campaign died out. Resurrection City closed down on June 19th.

The Whole Earth Catalog was a counterculture publication founded by Stewart Brand and first published in 1968. It was then regularly published every year until 1972. The catalog features listings of vendors who specialize in the wares of the counterculture, including  clothing, books, tools, machines, seeds, and other items that contribute to successful sustainable living with minimal environmental impact.

Stewart Brand, wrote in an article that appeared in the 1968 issue, "We are as gods. At a time when the New Left was calling for grass-roots political (i.e., referred) power, Whole Earth eschewed politics and pushed grassroots direct power—tools and skills. At a time when New Age hippies were deploring the intellectual world of arid abstractions, Whole Earth pushed science, intellectual endeavor, and new technology as well as old. As a result, when the most empowering tool of the century came along—personal computers (resisted by the New Left and despised by the New Age)—Whole Earth was in the thick of the development from the beginning."

In 1966, Stewart Brand initiated a public campaign to have NASA release the satellite photo of the sphere of Earth as seen from space, and it appeared on the cover of the catalog. Brand thought that the image was a powerful symbol that would create a sense of shared destiny and responsibility of the planet as a whole. Not unlike Google, the Whole Earth Catalog functioned as a place for information to be gathered from multiple sources on a broad topic. It is then up to the reader to evaluate which bits of information (or vendors) best fit their needs and lifestyle. 

The first several issues of the catalog were divided into seven broad sections: Understanding Whole Systems, Shelter and Land Use, Industry and Craft, Communication, Community, Nomadics, and Learning. Later editions retained this basic format with only minor changes. The Whole Earth Catalog continued to be published intermittently until 1998.