The LuLac Edition #1955, February 20th, 2012
Program front from event last week.
John Glenn's official Astronaut bio photo. (Check out the tie).
John Glenn and his capsule, "Friendship 7".
John Glenn with President Kennedy at a welcoming home hero parade.
John Glenn and Scott Carpenter in 1962 shortly before the flight.
John Glenn and Scott Carpenter at the 50th anniversary event late last week.
There was no shortage of John Glenn triple orbit souvenirs after his epic flight.
IN ORBIT: 50 YEARS ON
It was Tuesday, February 20th 1962 and I was home from school. My birthday was on the 19th and maybe it was too much cake. Maybe it was meant to be. But I found myself on the couch in our TV room early in the morning watching the news coverage of another space adventure. As a young child, I was becoming a veteran of these events. We heard about the exploits of the first American in space, Alan Shepard on May 5th just 10 months earlier. Then we bit our nails in the summer when Gus Grissom veered off course coming back from his flight. In our science class we knew those forays lasted only a quarter of an hour. This was going to be different, this was going to be many orbits around the earth. We simulated those orbits by taking our plastic red, white and blue rockets from the five and dime and walking and/or racing around our houses. Oh to only have the imagination and energy of a 7 year old again. I was constantly reminded by my father that this was not the news reel stuff channel 16 ran after the Stooges. If this was a rocket, it wasn’t a Polaris and the spaceship was not a blimp like object. This thing, like life, was straight up and down. Glenn, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, was among the seven men chosen by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1959 to become America's first astronauts. A decorated pilot, he flew nearly 150 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War. In 1957, he made the first nonstop supersonic flight across the United States, flying from Los Angeles to New York in three hours and 23 minutes. Glenn was also 40 years old. He was the oldest man to go into space. Glenn lifted off from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral at 9:47 a.m. on February 20, 1962. Some 100,000 spectators watched on the ground nearby and millions more saw it on television. After separating from its launching rocket, the bell-shaped Friendship 7 capsule entered into an orbit around Earth at a speed of about 17,500 miles per hour. Smoothing into orbit, Glenn radioed back, "Capsule is turning around. Oh, that view is tremendous."
During Friendship 7's first orbit, Glenn noticed what he described as small, glowing fireflies drifting by the capsule's tiny window. It was some time later that NASA mission control determined that the sparks were crystallized water vapor released by the capsule's air-conditioning system. Before the end of the first orbit, a more serious problem occurred when Friendship 7's automatic control system began to malfunction, sending the capsule into erratic movements. At the end of the orbit, Glenn switched to manual control and regained command of the craft.
Toward the end of Glenn's third and last orbit, mission control received a mechanical signal from the spacecraft indicating that the heat shield on the base of the capsule was possibly loose. Traveling at its immense speed, the capsule would be incinerated if the shield failed to absorb and dissipate the extremely high reentry temperatures. It was decided that the craft's retrorockets, usually jettisoned before reentry, would be left on in order to better secure the heat shield. Less than a minute later, Friendship 7 slammed into Earth's atmosphere.
During Glenn's fiery descent back to Earth, the straps holding the retrorockets gave way and flapped violently by his window as a shroud of ions caused by excessive friction enveloped the spacecraft, causing Glenn to lose radio contact with mission control. As mission control anxiously waited for the resumption of radio transmissions that would indicate Glenn's survival, he watched flaming chunks of retrorocket fly by his window. After four minutes of radio silence, Glenn's voice crackled through loudspeakers at mission control, and Friendship 7 splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean. He was picked up by the USS destroyer Noa, and his first words upon stepping out of the capsule and onto the deck of the Noa were, "It was hot in there." He had spent nearly five hours in space.
The flight was hailed as a success but in reality, Glenn came very close to burning up in the re-entry to earth. Years later, as stories circulated about the mission, it was evident that any space shot in the early days was anything but “a given”. Meanwhile, Glenn was hailed as a national hero, and on February 23 President John F. Kennedy visited him at Cape Canaveral. He later addressed Congress and was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City.
Out of a reluctance to risk the life of an astronaut as popular as Glenn, NASA essentially grounded the "Clean Marine" in the years after his historic flight. Frustrated with this uncharacteristic lack of activity, Glenn turned to politics and in 1964 announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Ohio and formally left NASA. Later that year, however, he withdrew his Senate bid after seriously injuring his inner ear in a fall. In 1970, following a stint as a Royal Crown Cola executive, he ran for the Senate again but lost the Democratic nomination to Howard Metzenbaum. Four years later, he defeated Metzenbaum, won the general election, and went on to win reelection three times. In 1984, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for president. For whatever reason, Glenn could not translate his astronaut charisma to the main political stage. He was regarded as stiff and boring. He went into deep debt for only a handful (and I mean that literally) of delegates.
In early 1998, NASA announced it had approved Glenn to serve as a payload specialist on the space shuttle Discovery. On October 29, 1998, nearly four decades after his famous orbital flight, the 77-year-old Glenn became the oldest human ever to travel in space. During the nine-day mission, he served as part of a NASA study on health problems associated with aging. In 1999, he retired from his U.S. Senate seat after four consecutive terms in office, a record for the state of Ohio.
Glenn is 90 years old. He is one of two astronauts from the Original 7 who is still with us. (Scott Carpenter, who we saw in the 90s at King’s with Michael Collins is the other one). Glenn has the distinction of being the only astronaut to live to see the 50th anniversary of his mission. “God speed John Glenn” indeed.