Today is the anniversary of John Glenn's flight. I am fascinated by space travel, especially the early years. Please share your memories of that day. Where were you? Were you glued to the television? Was there a real fear he would not make it back?
I think I was about 6 at the time and I recall alot of excitement and the TV being on but I really didn't understand it and didn't care. I still don't care that much although I suppose you could liken it to something like Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic.
Sitting in a 7th grade classroom in Catholic school on LI. Our teacher rolled in a TV and all three 7th grade classes came into our room and watched.
I more remember the Gemini flights when they walked in space. It was so cool.
I, too, am fascinated by this time period, OP - but wasn't around yet, for this one. These first astronauts had true balls - doing what they did, with so little technology, compared to today - and competing so intensely with each other for the privilege. Hot.
I was six years old at the time. I was walking around Sears & Roebuck with my mother. John Glenn's flight was announced over the PA system.
My mother is a shopper, what can I say? I don't know why we weren't home watching television. I'm a news junkie now. I would have been home. I wanted to say something to her then. But I remember that it was big news.
This is literally one of my earliest memories. I would have been a little over three, it was in the morning and I remember watching it with my parents.
I remember it -- I was in first grade. 1962.
Television had not been brought into American classrooms very much at that time, and portable TVs with rabbit ears were pretty rare too.
One of the Room Mothers did have a portable TV and brought it to our first grade class.
I remember they had to move the teacher's desk near a wall to be near a power outlet.
I think the class was more impressed with a TV being present in our classroom than was being shown on it.
We were a little young to grasp the importance.
I was born about 30 years after it happened but I find it absolutely fascinating.
As a 9 year old, I will never forget the LIFE Magazine article on John Glenn that included a photo of the young astronaut lying spread-eagled in his tighty-whities on his bed after the exhausting flight.
Somebody clever, please find and link! You won't be sorry.
I was far more impressed with Alan Shepard, the first American to go into space. Glenn was the first to go into orbit, but Shepard went into space before Glenn.
Just curious, why wouldn't some of you who were born years after the fact ask your parents or grandparents or other older friends and relatives? I'm a little puzzled about the fascination for this time period, but I guess you had to be there as I was. Also recall Shepard's flight; I tend to think alot of the glamor was lent by it taking place during a glamorous president's administration and him encouraging the space program.
It seems so ancient to me but it was only 12 years before I was born.
[quote]These first astronauts had true balls - doing what they did, with so little technology, compared to today
Thats one of the things I find so amazing about it. Microprocessors were still some ten years away. Most of the calculations were done with slide rules and scratch pads. Computers then were considered too unreliable and were only used for repetitive tasks.
What's interesting and unknown to most is that, for the majority of engineering problems, you can get 95% there with just a scratchpad. Will it break or won't it break, will it burn or won't it?
The problem is, the first 95% of a project takes 95% of the time, and the remaining 5% takes the other 95% of the time. For example, they knew they could boost the Mercury guys into space, but could they do so without burning up one or two as they did so? That's the 5% that takes the other 95% of the time, and despite what you think, computers have made it only worse. Computers are great for grinding through half a million equations that once had to be done by hand, but they've given people a confidence that they use the computer to solve problems, too, instead of just equations. And it leads them to do unnecessary and dangerous things, just because they now easily can.
But there was always that problem -- if you watch The Right Stuff, you'll see all the weird medical tests and experiments astronaut candidates were forced to endure in the early years. Over the years, they've found few have any merit in predicting anything about performance in space. But because they thought the vaccuum of space would cause intestinal gasses to perhaps expand, the poor heroic astronauts had to endure getting sodomized with tubes and tortured with pressurized air...
R14 The alarm that told Mission Control Glenn's landing bag was deployed turned out to be because for reasons unknown the indicator light went on. There was nothing wrong with the capsule, nothing wrong with the sensors, nothing wrong equipment. A little, two cent light just lit up for no reason.
[quote] could they do so without burning up one or two as they did so?
I read somewhere that at the beginning of the mission, it was taken as a given that at least one, perhaps two would die. The irony of course is one did die, but not in a Mercury mission.
[quote] Over the years, they've found few have any merit in predicting anything about performance in space.
I do find it kind of funny that the Apollo 11 astronauts were put into quarantine when they returned because there was a fear they would have brought back some sort of space born pathogen.
There used to be a free, mostly unmarked and large copy of this photo outside of getty image's clutches
I liked how in The Right Stuff they tied in the Australian aborigines and the "fireflies" Glenn saw encircling his spacecraft.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – More than 1,000 people — including 200 Project Mercury veterans — gathered at Kennedy Space Center with legendary astronauts John Glenn and Scott Carpenter on Saturday to celebrate the golden anniversary of America's first two orbital human space expeditions.
Seventy-three-year-old Eddie Harrison lived through survival training in the jungle back in the early 1960s, catching eatable egg-carrying iguanas with Glenn and Carpenter.
Bob Sieck, 73, of Viera, Fla., was an Air Force meteorologist who forecasted weather for the rescue squad that would have been dispatched to save Glenn if he had to make an emergency splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.
Jack King, 81, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., was NASA's chief of media services, and had to keep reporters from around the world in line during a long string of delays leading up to Glenn's historic Friendship 7 flight on Feb. 20, 1962.
"It was a madhouse," King said Saturday.
Glenn's Friendship 7 mission and Carpenter's Aurora 7 flight three months later put the U.S. on equal footing with the former Soviet Union in a Cold War "Space Race" to the moon.
"You are the people that made it happen. And I'm so glad to see that so many of you are still around," Glenn said in a private reception with the Project Mercury veterans.
"We've sure got a lot of gray and balding heads in here," he added.
Fifty years ago, the Soviet Union was crushing the U.S. in a battle for technological and ideological supremacy.
The Soviet Union in 1957 shocked the world with the surprise launch of Sputnik, the world's first man-made satellite. Then in April 1961, Russian Air Force pilot Yuri Gagarin became the first astronaut to orbit Earth.
The U.S. countered with the launches in May and July 1961 of American astronauts Alan Shepard and Virgil "Gus" Grissom. But Shepard and Grissom only flew 15-minute suborbital jaunts into space, and the U.S. was generally regarded globally as a second-place nation.
To make matters worse, Russian cosmonaut Gherman Titov lapped the Earth 17 times during a spaceflight in August 1961.
But the orbital flights of Glenn and Carpenter — followed by Mercury missions by Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper— gave the nation a sense that it could catch up with the Soviet Union and overtake them in the race to the moon.
"You know, the Mercury program changed America's image of itself," NASA astronaut Stephen Robinson told the crowd gathered in the Rocket Garden at the KSC Visitor Center on Saturday evening.
After that, people in America said, well, if we can fly into space, then we can do anything.
"So the American psyche became stronger and different because of the success of the Mercury program and the people who were in it," Robinson said.
Robinson flew with Glenn, now 90, when he returned to space in 1998 at age 77, becoming the oldest human to fly in orbit during a scientific research mission aboard shuttle Discovery.
"It's not true that NASA wouldn't let me go out on a spacewalk at my age because they were afraid I would wander off or something," Glenn said on a clear, cool, star-studded night.
In what amounted to a Space Coast version of a Hollywood premiere, Glenn and Carpenter arrived in a parade of Corvette convertibles. Photographers from around the country and Japan snapped photos of the astronauts as they walked to an outdoor stage. The only thing missing was a red carpet.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., was there along with Rep Bill Posey, R-Fla., and space center Director Robert Cabana, who flew on four shuttle missions, including the first International Space Station assembly flight.
Cabana, a veteran shuttle mission commander and pilot, says the U.S. is getting ready to once again do great things in space exploration.
"As great as our last 50 years have been, I think our next 50 years are going to be even better," Cabana said.
Said Carpenter, now 86: "We ain't seen nothing yet."
February 20, 2012
7 Things You May Not Know About John Glenn and Friendship 7
By Barbara Maranzani
On February 20, 1962, John H. Glenn became the third American in space and the first to orbit the Earth when he successfully completed three orbits aboard the space capsule “Friendship 7.” In the midst of Cold War tensions and the very real fear that the Soviet Union was winning the space race, Glenn’s accomplishment brought a sense of pride and relief to Americans and instantly made the 31-year-old Glenn a national hero. On the 50th anniversary of this historic flight, here are seven things you might not know about Friendship 7 and its pilot, John Glenn.
1. John Glenn was a star before joining the Mercury program.
Glenn had fallen in love with flying at an early age, building model airplanes while growing up in Ohio. In 1941, Glenn discovered a U.S. Department of Commerce program looking for students to train as pilots. Just six months after Glenn received his license, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and he enlisted and was eventually assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps. Glenn flew 59 missions in the South Pacific, where one of his wingmen was baseball legend Ted Williams. After serving in the Korean War, Glenn was appointed to a naval test pilot program, where he completed the world’s first supersonic transcontinental flight in 1957. Glenn received an enormous amount of publicity following this feat, which brought him to the attention of the NACA, the predecessor to NASA, who selected him to become one of the Mercury 7 astronauts.
2. John Glenn gave his space capsule the name Friendship 7.
The official name for Glenn’s mission was Mercury-Atlas 6. “Mercury” for the mission program, itself named after the Roman god of speed, and “Atlas 6” to indicate that this was the 6th mission to use the new, faster Atlas rocket as a launch vehicle. As was common practice among most pilots, the astronauts selected for the Mercury program often gave their capsules personal nicknames–Glenn asked his children for suggestions on what he should name the vessel, finally deciding on the word “Friendship” and adding the number “7” to honor his fellow Mercury members.
3. Glenn’s mission was delayed numerous times, leading to concern and anxiety.
Originally scheduled for December and then pushed to January 13, problems with the new Atlas rocket that would serve as the space capsule’s launching pad caused a two-week delay. On January 27, with Glenn already onboard the tiny capsule, poor weather conditions forced another series of postponements. Television crews were already set up to broadcast from both the launch site and Glenn’s home, where his wife, Annie, and children were anxiously watching. When the mission was scrapped, the reporters, accompanied by none other than Vice President Lyndon Johnson, tried to gain access to Glenn’s home in hopes of interviewing his wife. Annie refused, and when John heard about the pressure put on his wife, he backed her up, leading to a clash with officials. The launch was delayed yet again on January 30, after a fuel leak was discovered, followed by yet another weather delay. Finally, with all mechanical issues solved and fair weather forecasted, Glenn was once again strapped into Friendship 7 early on the morning of February 20, 1962.
4. Glenn didn’t hear the words “Godspeed, John Glenn.”
Scott Carpenter, the backup astronaut for the mission, uttered the phrase most associated with man’s first orbit of the Earth. As mission control performed its final system checks, test conductor Tom O’Malley initiated the launch sequence, adding a personal prayer, “May the good Lord ride all the way,” to which Carpenter added, “Godspeed, John Glenn.” Carpenter later explained that he had come up with the phrase on the spot, but the phrase did have meaning for any test pilot and astronaut: “In those days, speed was magic…and nobody had gone that fast. If you can get that speed, you’re home-free.” The phrase became part of the public consciousness, however Glenn himself didn’t hear Carpenter’s comment until he had returned to Earth. Due to a glitch in Glenn’s radio, Carpenter’s microphone wasn’t on his frequency.
5. There were several scary moments aboard Friendship 7.
The launch of Friendship 7 went flawlessly, and Glenn encountered few issues in the early stages of the flight. During his second orbit, mission control noticed a sensor was issuing a warning that Friendship 7’s heat shield and landing bag were not secure, putting the mission, and Glenn in danger. Officials did not immediately inform Glenn of the potential problem, instead asking him to run a series of small tests on the system to see if that resolved the issue, which eventually clued Glenn in to their concerns. After a series of discussions, it was decided that rather than following standard procedures and discard the retrorocket (an engine designed to slow down the capsule upon reentry), Glenn would keep the rocket in place to help secure the heat shield. He successfully reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean after a flight of 4 hours and 55 minutes. When officials inspected the recovered capsule, they determined that the heat shield had never been in danger and a faulty sensor had caused the problem.
6. The truth behind the mysterious “fireflies” that John Glenn saw.
During the first of Glenn’s three orbits, he reported seeing a series of small particles floating outside his capsule. As he reported to NASA, he had never seen anything like it, and he thought it looked like a series of stars were surrounding him. Glenn referred the specks as “fireflies,” and tried banging on his capsule walls to see if he could make them move, which he could. NASA scientists feared it was malfunctioning part of the space capsule, though some thought Glenn’s vision was caused by a medical condition he encountered while in space while others tried to find a more spiritual meaning to the celestial “fireflies.” So, what were they? The mystery was solved later that year, when another Mercury astronaut, Scott Carpenter, made his orbital flight aboard Aurora 7. Carpenter also reported seeing the particles, and to him the looked like snowflakes. Turns out, Carpenter was pretty close to the truth. They were indeed bits of frozen condensation on the capsules’ exterior that broke off as it moved from through areas of varying temperatures.
7. Glenn’s returned to space, 36 years after Friendship 7.
John Glenn remained with NASA until 1964, but did not return to space in any of the later Mercury missions. It is believed that President Kennedy and other government officials, well aware of the symbolic importance of the first man to orbit the Earth, ordered NASA to keep him grounded, for fear of his being injured or killed in a space program that was still, in many ways, in the developmental stage. Glenn returned to Ohio, where he became a successful businessman. He later entered politics, and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974, serving four terms. Glenn maintained close contacts with NASA, and spoke often of his regret at not having been part of subsequent missions, including the lunar landings. In 1998, however, John Glenn got his wish and returned to space. Though it had been more than 35 years since he had last suited up, Glenn was selected as part of the crew aboard the space shuttle Discovery. His participation, at the age of 77, would allow scientists to study the affects of space travel on the elderly. When Glenn returned from the nine-day mission, he and his fellow crew members were welcomed home with a ticker-tape parade in New York City, marking the second time Glenn had received such an honor.