Remembering Real Space Champions

Jeff  Bezo’s penisrocketing into the great blue yonder left me frankly unsatisfied. I’m old enough to remember real space heroes, not self-indulgent corporate billionaires looking for a mid-life thrill ride.

If kids today see billionaires as the new models for space adventurers I am grateful that I grew up at a time when we had dedicated NASA astronauts to admire. The gender inequality of NASA of the 1960s notwithstanding, the space program  helped unleash the imaginations of a generation of children like myself swept up in the “space craze.”

Pioneer in Space Tourism

Bezo’s brief joyride into the rarified world of space received fawning coverage for weeks as it opens up space tourism for the even more rarified world of the very wealthy. His lift-off received wall-to-wall coverage. Whether on a smartphone, online, or on a TV, millions watched as Bezo’s phallic-shaped rocket soared into space, but oh how it paled in the once upon a time excitement of watching real pioneers explore outer space.

He may be a  pioneer in space tourism. I prefer my pioneers to be for the greater good.

Before Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk, it was a freckled-faced hero named  John Glenn who deserved our admiration for pioneering space travel in the world.

John Glenn America’s hero

 

John Glenn

 

In a world of space-age superstars, 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 America’s Astronauts were as revered and heroic as any champion in history filling our patriotic hearts with pride, it’s no surprise that 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.  Businessmen 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 seemingly ordinary school day would take on historic proportions for 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 a 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 him safely off. And in the U.S.  his fellow Americans we sat on the edges of our seats.

Lift Off

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 postponements 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 our 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

john-glenn

John Glenn, Photo Life Magazine 3/2/62

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.

A grateful nation remains thankful to him for his dignity and bravery and for opening the universe to all of us.

Not just the wealthy.

© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2021

 

7 comments

  1. Beth Feldman

    Absolutely wonderful, every word!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so glad you enjoyed this piece, Beth!

    Like

  3. You ignite such vivid memories. And you make an excellent point.

    Like

  4. Sally, a favorite movie is “The Right Stuff” about the Gemini astronauts, but also Chuck Yeager and Scott Crossfield, who competed as test pilots to break the sound barrier, each so doing. Those men and now women had the right stuff to push the envelope on space travel. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

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