In a world of space age super stars, none shone brighter than John Glenn Jr.
For baby boomers weaned on TV’s Space Patrol and Tom Corbett Space Cadet, Lieutenant Colonel John Glenn Jr. was a bone fide hero come to life.
At a time when Americas Astronauts were as revered and heroic as any champion in history filling our patriotic hearts with pride, it’s no surprise that this freckled face young man with the ear to ear grin became the first real superstar of the space age.
The fact that we got to view his heroics on television was historic in itself.
As the first man to orbit the Earth, Americans from coast to coast sat glued to their television sets to watch the historic liftoff. Business men stopped transactions; Housewives put their chores aside to view history.
A Space Age School Day
So it was no surprise that on a cold Tuesday in February 1962 a seeming ordinary school day would take on historic proportions for a this 6-year-old second grader..
At the time, the initial excitement for me was the novelty of a television set being rolled into my second grade classroom by the AV department. That was treat never experienced before.
Proudly my classmates and I joined the nation in suspense as we sat poised for the take off at Cape Canaveral that morning.
No man was ever more alone than John Glenn Jr at that awesome and historic moment when he rode his capsule to a long-awaited rendezvous with space.
People across the earth were riveted. Pope John in Rome prayed for him; the Japanese stayed up half the night to hear hm safely off. And in the U.S. his fellow Americans we sat on the edges of our seats.
At 10a.m. the announcement came and we counted along : “T minus one minute and counting …Five, four, three, two, one, zero, ignition!” When the fearful belch of flame and smoke broke out at the base of the Atlas we heard “Liftoff!” There had been ten frustrating postponement but today’s lift off would be a success.
As the rocket strained off the pad and the sound of it roaring reached the television microphones, we sat utterly still. As the Atlas rose faster and faster the bright glare of its engines ringed by black on the television screens. “Pilot John Glenn is reporting all systems go.”
The frightening suspense as Glenn’s rocket Friendship 7 shook and rose in a roar of flame and steam, showed poignantly on the faces of my six-year-old classmates.
In a sudden instant of flame he was off. The rocket ascended gaining momentum until it disappeared into the deep blue sky.
As Glenn soared into the nation’s history, we in out classroom watched with the same anxiousness as we might any Sci-Fi episode, with fear and ultimately happiness and pride at his success.
Like millions of Americans our teacher kept close track of Glenn’s orbits around the earth and we followed him carefully on classroom globes and maps that suddenly took on new importance
Glenn hurtled into three sunsets and three dawns, through four Tuesdays and three Wednesdays in only five short hours, my teacher breathlessly informed us. It was the result , she emphasized, of the skills and patience of tens of thousands all focused to create this orbital flight
As the announcement came that Glenn was going to go for the third orbit, the tension began to build, as Americans swallowed lumps in their throats as he came back to earth from the stars.
Five hours later John Glenn was pulled safe from the Atlantic. A sigh of relief and pride washed over us all.
Now that super nova has dimmed with his death and a grateful nation thanks him for his dignity and bravery and opening the universe to all of us.
I’m gonna get dad off of FOX news–for ONCE–today and put in “The Right Stuff” when I get back home. Of course, if I wanna keep it off a few days, I’ll let dad borrow my copy of the book (hee hee). He accomplished a helluva lot. As a space nut myself, sad to see him off–Godspeed, John Glenn.
A great book and great movie, one we should all revisit now. Curiously, from what I understand John Glenn didn’t care for the movie all that much.
I bet he didn’t–he had the reputation of a “Dudley-Do-Right” and they hyped it up on the screen big time…and the fact that he was running for president at the time the movie came out (which ironically made the film not do so good because people thought it was a biopic of John Glenn instead of about the whole beginnings of the space program–but thank goodness for VHS and DVD. My stepdad bought me the VHS for Christmas when Apollo 13 was out and I became a re-confirmed space nut thanks to it. Bought the DVD when the tapes wore out! Bought the book last year when the price dropped and read it over a weekend–too awesome to put down.
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Thanks to Tom Wolfe, we got much of the story of the Mercury program in “The Right Stuff”. And the movie was by Philip Kaufman wasn’t bad either. Only those men knew what it was like to be sitting on a ton of TNT, waiting for it to blow you into space. Now that’s courage.
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