50 years ago today: First American orbit of Earth

posted at 9:50 am on February 20, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Fifty years ago, the success of the Russian space program in putting a man into orbit had Americans in a panic. The first two Mercury missions into space used the Redstone rocket, which was only powerful enough for suborbital flight, and the US risked being seen as incapable of competing with Communists on missile technology and space exploration.  NASA asked John Glenn to strap himself into the more powerful Atlas SLV-3 rocket, a family of rockets with a spotty success record, to allow America to catch up in a hurry to the Soviets.  Fifty years ago today, Glenn made the first three American orbits of the Earth and re-energized the American pursuit of space flight:

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I may have had my differences with Glenn on politics, but there is no doubt that Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Alan Shepard, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Wally Schirra, and Gordon Cooper were and are true American heroes; Grissom gave his life for the program in 1967 in the Apollo I fire, whose 45th anniversary was a little over three weeks ago. But as with many of our heroic tales, there were a number of people who made those heroics possible, and it’s good to see so many of the original Mercury program workers still with us today. My father worked on later projects in the space program — Gemini, Apollo, and the space shuttle — and I’m always happy to see the thousands of people who made space flight possible in the pioneering era get well-deserved accolades.

For today, though, step outside and look toward the heavens. Fifty years ago, Glenn put his faith in American ingenuity and risked his life to look in the other direction, and gave us all a ride we should not forget.

Update: I am rightly scolded in the comments for forgetting Deke Slayton, who missed out on his Mercury mission due to a heart murmur but later went into space at age 51.  Slayton was an integral part of NASA’s efforts for many years, and should be counted among the heroes.


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Glory days…I do miss them…

thedevilinside on February 20, 2012 at 9:51 AM

Thank you

cmsinaz on February 20, 2012 at 9:51 AM

Space!

Bmore on February 20, 2012 at 9:51 AM

Now the U.S. space program is just a giant rubber band and a prayer.

Thanks, political pseudo-elites!

ebrown2 on February 20, 2012 at 9:53 AM

Billy Bob Thornton did too, in The Astronaut Farmer. And he launched from his own barn. /

changer1701 on February 20, 2012 at 9:53 AM

Ed, trust you had a lovely day , evening, one more in the books.

Bmore on February 20, 2012 at 9:53 AM

My father worked on later projects in the space program — Gemini, Apollo, and the space shuttle

Cool.

itsnotaboutme on February 20, 2012 at 9:54 AM

I saw Ed Harris in NYC about 18 months ago. I said to him, but I’m not sure if he heard, “I loved you in the Right Stuff.” I wonder what would have happened if I had mentioned The Rock or Pollock.

KillerKane on February 20, 2012 at 9:54 AM

That was about the only thing I ever got away with as a kid.

It was understood but unspoken that every launch day, I came down with some mysterious ailment that kept me from going to school.

Typhoon on February 20, 2012 at 9:54 AM

Wow, great reminder. We watched The Right Stuff with the kiddos a few months back. I admire the courage of those men and those of other missions such as Apollo 13, examples of which I use with my own students. Those guys were visionary, problem solvers, risk takers, and had the support of the nation behind them. Nowadays, they’ve been relegated to improving the self-esteem of Muslims, for what reasons we do not know…..

ted c on February 20, 2012 at 9:56 AM

A hardy salute to John Glenn and all the folks on the ground who made it happen. It changed the world.

Bmore on February 20, 2012 at 9:58 AM

Now, NASA is part of the Arab Spring or something!

KOOLAID2 on February 20, 2012 at 10:00 AM

I may have had my differences with Glenn on politics, but there is no doubt that Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Alan Shepard, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Wally Schirra, and Gordon Cooper were and are true American heroes

Shame on you, Ed…you forgot the 7th original Mercury astronaut, Deke Slayton. He was grounded by a heart murmur and had to wait until he was 51 to make it into space, in 1975. From 1963 until 1972 he was NASA’s Director of Flight Crew Operations.

Here’s a flashback of the NBC News coverage from 50 years ago this morning

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVZm8VmMRpA

Del Dolemonte on February 20, 2012 at 10:00 AM

John Glenn was, repeat WAS a hero of mine until he sold his soul and his vote to Bill Clinton on a critical committee vote to get back into space.

Amendment X on February 20, 2012 at 10:01 AM

As we look back on those days and say “It was good” to go to space and the moon, we also seem to be saying that a moon base and further space exploration “is not worth it”. I disagree and think that longterm plans need to be put forth for the inevitable migration.

BierManVA on February 20, 2012 at 10:02 AM

Atlas SLV-3 rocket, a family of rockets with a spotty success record

Huh?

All launch vehicles of the time had spotty success records.

Shepard was my favorite. And Ham.

cozmo on February 20, 2012 at 10:03 AM

Ed Harris in this clip of Apollo 13 is a stellar demonstration of leadership, problem solving and crisis management. This is an example of stress doesn’t produce character, it reveals it. This guy had a backbone of steel and kept his head when all others around him were close to losing theirs. ++

ted c on February 20, 2012 at 10:03 AM

Someday…
soon I hope…
We will again, look to the skies…
Instead of looking at the Obama’s….

Electrongod on February 20, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Thanks for this post, Ed. We need to remember this stuff.

Even if the Gemini rockets were way cooler. :)

Spannerhead on February 20, 2012 at 10:04 AM

But that being said, these guys did have the right stuff. The only spot on that record was that Chuck Yeager wasn’t put into space because he lacked “the right stuff” namely a college degree.

Amendment X on February 20, 2012 at 10:04 AM

How far we’ve come. From Kennedy’s vision of American inginuity and greatness to Obama’s vision of a subservient America, begging its enemies for a ride into space.

Garym on February 20, 2012 at 10:05 AM

Del Dolemonte on February 20, 2012 at 10:00 AM

thanks for that clip.

ted c on February 20, 2012 at 10:06 AM

I remember back in the early ’70′s, I was 4-5 years old and my babysitter said that we were going to watch a “splashdown” and I recall a puzzled “What’s that?”

Once I saw that space capsule under red/white enormous parachutes splashing down into the ocean and a Navy helicopter deploying SEALs to affix a flotation device to that capsule, I was hooked. My dad used to work for Rockwell, a company who made components for the space shuttle and I recall when the Columbia was the first shuttle mission to go up–it was a big event!

good times.

ted c on February 20, 2012 at 10:12 AM

Even if the Gemini rockets were way cooler. :)

Spannerhead on February 20, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Nah, the Redstone was coolest. Duct taped together just so the US could get something up there.

cozmo on February 20, 2012 at 10:12 AM

This didn’t make Michelle Obama proud of America.

Crusty on February 20, 2012 at 10:13 AM

Amendment X on February 20, 2012 at 10:04 AM

It was a little more than that. Don’t take the book, or movie, as gospel.

cozmo on February 20, 2012 at 10:13 AM

http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2009/July/Fmr-Navy-Frogman-Recalls-Apollo-11-Recovery/

great testimony by former Navy SEAL John Wolfram who helped recover Apollo 11. Nearly committed suicide. Gave his life to the Lord and turned himself around after a bout of drug addiction.

ted c on February 20, 2012 at 10:20 AM

Now NASA just makes Muslims feel good about their acheivements.

vcferlita on February 20, 2012 at 10:22 AM

But that being said, these guys did have the right stuff. The only spot on that record was that Chuck Yeager wasn’t put into space because he lacked “the right stuff” namely a college degree.

Amendment X on February 20, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Sadly, Yeager couldn’t do math. He “fudged” his exams to become a pilot, and WWII Ace, in the first place.

~(Ä)~

Karl Magnus on February 20, 2012 at 10:27 AM

First humans to fly: The Wright Brothers (Dayton, Ohio)
First American to orbit the Earth: John Glenn (Cambridge, Ohio)
First man on the moon: Neil Armstrong (Wapakoneta, Ohio)

Go Buckeyes!

VastRightWingConspirator on February 20, 2012 at 10:29 AM

This didn’t make Michelle Obama proud of America.

Crusty on February 20, 2012 at 10:13 AM

+100!

My dad was a physics teacher at a local state college. He had us up to watch any launch that was televised. When us boys weren’t playing Army we were the Mercury Astronauts. I was Gus Grissom…until the fire. Shortly after my dad died and I lost most of my interest in NASA.

TugboatPhil on February 20, 2012 at 10:29 AM

The only spot on that record was that Chuck Yeager wasn’t put into space because he lacked “the right stuff” namely a college degree.

Amendment X on February 20, 2012 at 10:04 AM

but Chuck Yeager laid the groundwork for all of the rest of these guys. He broke the sound barrier and had big stones–pretty much did whatever he wanted in the Air Force. John Glenn was the right guy for the mission. Chuck Yeager had to eat humble pie, but it was what he needed. Nevertheless, Yeager retired as a flag officer.

ted c on February 20, 2012 at 10:32 AM

Today we reflect with pride what those early pioneers were able to accomplish. If you ever have the opportunity to read We, Seven, by all means, do so. It is a look at a moment in time, written by the Mercury 7 themselves.

So, lift up a glass of Tang, grab a Space Food Stick and celebrate the indomitable American Spirit of yesteryear.

Tomorrow, mourn the loss of Grissom, White, and Chaffee on Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia, and our ceding of the pioneer spirit to others.

juanito on February 20, 2012 at 10:32 AM

The by-product, not talked about, or known about…it helped produce the most advanced manufacturing techniques we use today.
It spurred our economy with efficiencies, Although used by Ford, it was the first time that a government agency adopted real capitlist techniques in overcoming bureaucracy.
Ewards Deming was the motivator behind “lean manufacturing”, JIT, etc.

right2bright on February 20, 2012 at 10:34 AM

That looks like Obama in that space suit.

Kjeil on February 20, 2012 at 10:35 AM

Fifty years ago, the success of the Russian space program in putting a man into orbit had Americans in a panic.

And now we have to rely on the Russians to get us to the International Space Station.

Disturb the Universe on February 20, 2012 at 10:36 AM

In another 50 years Americans may be able to purchase a vacation at the Chinese moon base or an Indian orbiting hotel and watch TV specials on Japanese planet exploration. Isn’t it nice that fossil fuel free liberated from science god fearing America has gone back to the horse and buggy in order to give everyone else a chance.

Annar on February 20, 2012 at 10:36 AM

Stationed in the United Kingdom at RAF Leiston, Yeager flew P-51 Mustangs in combat (he named his aircraft Glamorous Glennis[4] after his girlfriend, Glennis Faye Dickhouse, who became his wife in February 1945) with the 363rd Fighter Squadron. He had gained one victory before he was shot down over France on his eighth mission, on March 5, 1944.[5] He escaped to Spain on March 30 with the help of the Maquis (French Resistance) and returned to England on May 15, 1944. During his stay with the Maquis, Yeager assisted the guerrillas in duties that did not involve direct combat, though he did help to construct bombs for the group, a skill that he had learned from his father.[6] He was awarded the Bronze Star for helping another airman, who had lost part of his leg during the escape attempt, to cross the Pyrenees.

Despite not going into space, MG Yeager was a star in his own right.

ted c on February 20, 2012 at 10:36 AM

John Glenn was, repeat WAS a hero of mine until he sold his soul and his vote to Bill Clinton on a critical committee vote to get back into space.

Amendment X on February 20, 2012 at 10:01 AM

If the price is right even heroes can become whores.

swinia sutki on February 20, 2012 at 10:36 AM

I was a kid during most of the pioneering era of spaceflight. I never missed a televised launch or splashdown, I devoured all the information I could get my hands on, I had all the models and literature.
When I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I answered that I wanted to be an engineer on the Moon Colony.
When Nixon killed the lunar program I was devastated.

single stack on February 20, 2012 at 10:39 AM

Too bad he had to come back and become a senator.

lilium479 on February 20, 2012 at 10:40 AM

lilium479 on February 20, 2012 at 10:40 AM

Not cool, I didn’t like his politics, but I won’t denigrate his accomplishments over them.

cozmo on February 20, 2012 at 10:45 AM

It is a disgrace that the first American to orbit the earth was a leftist commnunist.

Pablo Honey on February 20, 2012 at 10:46 AM

I was 8 years old when Glenn took his ride and I followed the space program much like a greyhound follows that damn rabbit.

I lived just outside a major SAC base and there were often Air Force guys at our house. I still have a copy of the maintenence manual for the Atlas main propulsion system that I was given as a gift. The Atlas was, for a time, the major ICBM threat to the Soviets and there were silos nearby as well.

I find it difficult to explain to young people today the absolute thrill (and terror) of those times. The enthusiasm my young heart had for these hero’s who strapped themselves to rockets coupled with the knowledge that, when those sirens went off, you better hope it’s twelve noon because, if it wasn’t, you had about 20 minutes to live.

Hell of a way to live….but, good times nonetheless.

JFK had issued his challenge to the nation and, when Apollo 11 touched down and became Tranquility Base, I was on the floor in front of my granddad’s tv, almost unable to breathe, hanging on every word Cronkite or Jules Bergman said. I was 16 then but unlike the current FLOTUS, very, very proud.

I’ll just say that, when we made it to the moon, nationally the ‘bloom came off the rose.’ Our country has not had a national challenge or, come to think of it, an enemy like the Soviets to compete with for quite some time now. I see us as a race horse left behind after winning the last race….no new challenge, just pacing the track and getting fat and tired and lazy.

Maybe Glenn and the others were just ‘spam in a can’ after all was said and done but Glenn and many others got ticker tape parades after their flights. Think anything like that would happen today when all we seem to have are ‘class warriors’?

Sorry for the ramble. I’ll drink a toast tonight for the Mercury Seven and the Next Nine and all the Apollo crews in thanks for their missions that united an entire country and, for a time, the world.

Anti_anti on February 20, 2012 at 10:46 AM

It is a disgrace that the first American to orbit the earth was a leftist commnunist.

Pablo Honey on February 20, 2012 at 10:46 AM

What’s a disgrace is ignorant nutballs like you making stupid untruthful attacks.

cozmo on February 20, 2012 at 10:49 AM

Even if the Gemini rockets were way cooler. :)

Spannerhead on February 20, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Nah, the Redstone was coolest. Duct taped together just so the US could get something up there.

cozmo on February 20, 2012 at 10:12 AM

There is something undeniably cool about that, but the fact that the Gemini’s cockpit was laid out like a fighter jet’s, complete with stick and artificial horizons, and that the pilots/astronauts were on actual ejection seats… It’s arguably the closest we ever got in real life to something like an X-wing (the dowdy Shuttle doesn’t count—boring). That’s cool.

Spannerhead on February 20, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Spannerhead on February 20, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Well, okay, you can have that one…except for:

This Dyna-Soar

Don’t get me started on the MOL…

cozmo on February 20, 2012 at 10:56 AM

I was just re-reading a book on the Kennedy-Nixon campaign and was struck by the fact that Kennedy was quite dismissive of the manned space program. He thought it was wasteful spending and had no benefits.

Once the Soviets launched Gagarin into space in April of 1961 he turned around on a dime. In fact, there’s a tape recording of the meeting JFK had with his science advisers and he was just distraught at the achievement. He needed something to counteract the Soviets.

SteveMG on February 20, 2012 at 11:05 AM

ted c on February 20, 2012 at 10:03 AM

Please! Actors demonstrate skill at acting. Nothing more.

If you want to see an example of real skill, watch Delmonte’s clip, that he posted here [Del Dolemonte on February 20, 2012 at 10:00 AM], and then switch over to this clip for a review of how they handled the “issue” of what turned out to be a false indicator light, suggesting that Glenn’s inflatable landing bag may have deployed, just beneath the heat shield.

They had to work through how to handle the matter, and Alan Shephard, our first “man in space,” was tasked with telling Glenn that he would be manually re-entering, with the retro-rocket package attached, and why! The actual footage put together for this clip is quite riveting.

Trochilus on February 20, 2012 at 11:08 AM

…..the Russian space program……had Americans in a panic.

During the late 50′s and 60′s I lived in the Orlando area working on the Pershing missile program and then the Apollo program. Don’t recall any “panic”. Excitement, high interest, aprehension, yes. But not panic.

elintex on February 20, 2012 at 11:11 AM

Thanks for posting this, Ed. I always feel like I’m the only person who keeps up with these things. I grew up in Satellite Beach, FL, about 15 miles south of the Cape. I saw all the Shuttle launches from the first one to the Challenger tragedy, and an untold number of satellite launches. My mom was friends with one of the divers who looked for the remains of the Challenger astronauts. My brother worked on the Shuttle for 15 years. I have the Kennedy Space Center mapped out on the inside of my skull. I live in SC now, and this past year I had the extreme pleasure of taking my four-year-old son down to see the last Shuttle launch from the same beach from which I watched the first one with my father. My son had never seen anything like that before. The gut-melting power, the crackle in the air as those candles go up. And just a few weeks ago, on the anniversary of Gus’s death, I showed my now-five-year-old The Right Stuff (I’ve got the movie memorized, practically, so we sped past the occasional strong language), and he was positively thrilled. To this day, I still chew my nails during the scene where Glenn re-enters the atmosphere. Shuttles and rockets and jet planes are a huge part of his childhood, as they were mine. In any case, just wanted to let you know that someone as excited as you are about these guys appreciates you pointing them out. Glad you included Deke, too: there may never have been a man or woman more dedicated to going up.

Tobias on February 20, 2012 at 11:16 AM

Don’t recall any “panic”. Excitement, high interest, aprehension, yes. But not panic.

Well, JFK and his people were worried.

Here’s one account of his meeting with his advisors after Gagarin’s launch:
“The president seemed anxious and asked a lot of questions that his advisors couldn’t answer… He seemed desperate for a solution to a problem that has placed his presidency in crisis… His science advisor slouched in his seat, his budget director warned of the immense costs of competing with the Russians, and the head of NASA is little more than a toady…”

Panic, desperation, fear, concern? In any case, they were worried.

SteveMG on February 20, 2012 at 11:21 AM

Also Ed, the picture on the front page is not John Glenn. That picture is of Alan Shepard on the first suborbital flight

daveUSA on February 20, 2012 at 11:21 AM

Spannerhead on February 20, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Well, okay, you can have that one…except for:

This Dyna-Soar

Don’t get me started on the MOL…

cozmo on February 20, 2012 at 10:56 AM

Oh gosh. The what-might-have-beens of that one…

In that category (awesome space exploration ideas sunk by politics), we have

DC-X

And the mother of them all:

Project Orion

Spannerhead on February 20, 2012 at 11:28 AM

Spannerhead on February 20, 2012 at 11:28 AM

DCX, maybe someday.

Orion…you gotta’ be kidding. The enviros would have started a revolution.

But I do have a little one attached to my space station.

cozmo on February 20, 2012 at 11:31 AM

Today this once great nation can’t get back to the moon. Pathetic.

philw1776 on February 20, 2012 at 11:32 AM

Those were exciting times!

I read about space flight when I was in elementary school whenever I had the chance. I remember the Apollo 8 reading from Genesis (alas, something like that will never be allowed to happen again) when I was in 5th grade. And, like most of the country, if not the world who had radios and TV, I was “about to turn blue” from practically holding my breath during the first moon landing. For every Apollo mission, Dad would take me to the Government Printing Office store in the Pentagon concourse to buy the book on the mission. I finally got to see a shuttle launch live and that was exciting for all the senses–when you can feel the earth shake as it starts off.

I feel sorry for those who don’t have that excitement and pride now.

Kevin K. on February 20, 2012 at 11:41 AM

Amendment X on February 20, 2012 at 10:04 AM

It was a little more than that. Don’t take the book, or movie, as gospel.

cozmo on February 20, 2012 at 10:13 AM

I am always willing to stand corrected. But, as NASA was looking for red hot test pilots, they don’t come much hotter than Chuck Yeager or Scott Crossfield.

Amendment X on February 20, 2012 at 11:42 AM

One of my professors was an engineer on all of the Apollo missions. He was on the team that helped design the backup plan that saved Apollo 13. When they show the ‘real footage’ you can see the much younger version of him in the command center there in Houston.

Yes, what a great nation we are and it is good for us to be proud of our past. When we set this ship aright, and rid the government halls of those treasonous traitors that have set out to destroy this republic and all that we and our ancestors have accomplished, we shall be proud of that, too.

uhangtight on February 20, 2012 at 11:46 AM

When I think of John Glenn (and I am 60) I think of the Senator who was the lynchpin in preventing any meaningful investigation of the Clinton adminstration’s sale of military technology to the Red Chinese.

And for which he was rewarded with a trip on the space shuttle.

Patooey.

Labamigo on February 20, 2012 at 11:48 AM

Amendment X on February 20, 2012 at 11:42 AM

NASA wasn’t looking for red hot test pilots. They weren’t looking for circus performers either.

cozmo on February 20, 2012 at 11:49 AM

Grew up in Burbank, heard the Friday-night secret midnight flights out of Lockheed to Edwards with parts for special airplanes, and the Saturday non-secret work in support of the Space Program. Father-in-law was an engineer with Rocketdyne, involved in development of several engine designs, including the Atlas and the Saturn V (the husk of which still adorns the front of the old office building in Canoga Park). All across the Valley, we could hear and feel when a rocket motor was being test-fired on the stand in the Santa Susana Pass.

It was the sound of American excellence. Now there is silence.

But that being said, these guys did have the right stuff. The only spot on that record was that Chuck Yeager wasn’t put into space because he lacked “the right stuff” namely a college degree.

Amendment X on February 20, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Yeah, but old Number 1 got a Lifetime Achievement award just the other day at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. At 89, General Yeager still flies jets and offers consult to the Air Force, at the paid salary of $1 per year. That permits him to strap on an Eagle now and then and take a joy ride. Nobody deserves it more.

Freelancer on February 20, 2012 at 11:55 AM

I was a kid during most of the pioneering era of spaceflight. I never missed a televised launch or splashdown, I devoured all the information I could get my hands on, I had all the models and literature.

When I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I answered that I wanted to be an engineer on the Moon Colony.

When Nixon killed the lunar program I was devastated.

single stack on February 20, 2012 at 10:39 AM

I was 7 or 8 I think, when it all started. Hearing in class the terrifyingly misunderstood news that “…the Russians were in space”.

For every launch from the Florida space port, the second grader on the West Coast was up early that morning, before anyone in the house stirred. TV on, turned down low. Watching in wonder. Hoping. Wondering …if …how …he could do that thing, be that thing, be part of that thing, too.

Ask him what he wanted to be in those elementary school days, and at first, it was always to be an astronaut. Spoken with awe …even reverence. Quietly said …but sure & firm. A wonder that, at such an age.

Later, with a bunch of reading under his young-skull-full-of-mush, it was to be a miner …in the asteroid belt.

The little boy had calculated the long odds, and reoriented his dreams to match what seemed the more attainable, the more reasonable.

He figured he had more of a chance at that. He could be fluid, if that’s what it took.

They’d need independent men like that, to explore, to mine, to risk, too. Maybe him. Too.

Or so I reasoned.

…but what I never figured, was that no one had any chance at space at all.

I have hated every politician of every following generation with passionate disgust and loathing disdain for over 50 years for killing the space program …for the long slow death that followed.

…for not understanding how important space is, to the exclusion of almost every other public endeavor since that too brief time of vision, of greatness.

davisbr on February 20, 2012 at 11:58 AM

There were many, many pioneers and adventurers who, by demonstrating the viability of human survivability in space pressure suits and other equipment, truly contributed to making those early space flights possible.

In addition to Chuck Yeager and his important contributions, as mentioned by several commenters, there was another somewhat lesser-known fellow named Joseph Kittinger who, back in the summer of 1960, tested the limits of endurance, and went to the edge of space — nearly 20 miles up — in a balloon, and then bailed out and parachuted back to earth! It was the third of three very high-risk high altitude jumps that Joe made back in the day.

Having jumped from 102,800 feet, Joe set two world records during his historic descent, one obviously for altitude — a record that that he still holds — and then, during his free-fall, Joe became the only man on earth to have broken the sound barrier without the aid of a vehicle! The thin atmosphere at that altitude made it possible.

Here was the Forbes interview of Joe by James Clash, from back in 2003, and a subsequent retelling of the story with video of his actual jump, published by Forbes back in 2008.

Joe kept the “mission control” unaware that there was a minor malfunction in one of the gloves (pressurization) during the ascent, and personally decided to risk losing his hand in order to ensure that he would be the guy who made that historic decent. It swelled up to twice the normal size, but eventually he fully recovered.

As a fighter pilot, Joe later fought in Viet-Nam, and was finally shot down and captured. He was a POW for 11 months, and was subjected to torture in the Hanoi Hilton. He was released March 28, 1973. Thereafter, he participated in a balloon flight over the Atlantic.

Joe is still alive in Florida today, and in recent years has been involved in a project aimed a breaking his own record.

Trochilus on February 20, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Trochilus on February 20, 2012 at 11:08 AM

wow. thanks for posting that clip. What a pucker factor in having to execute a manual reentry and a sincere credit to the professionalism of both astronauts to handle it in stride. That had to have been a long period of waiting until that retro rocket package busted loose.

ted c on February 20, 2012 at 12:05 PM

Alan Sheppard had the biggest pair of brass b@lls. He rode first on a launch system that at that point had a better than 50% chance of blowing up underneath him and he still got in the thing and specificly told them to “Light this candle”.

Alan Sheppard. If not for his inner ear problems, he would have had a buttload more time in space. But at least they got his problem fixed so he could be the first man to drive a golfball on the moon.

A Navy man too.

44Magnum on February 20, 2012 at 12:16 PM

Today this once great nation can’t get back to the moon. Pathetic.

philw1776 on February 20, 2012 at 11:32 AM

Can’t or won’t?

Bmore on February 20, 2012 at 12:19 PM

John Glenn and the others were real Americans and had the right stuff back then. John Glenn lost all that when he became a corrupt politician. It seems that politics brings out the worst in people.

savage24 on February 20, 2012 at 12:34 PM

Saw him interviewed on Weather Channel this morning. Couldn’t talk for two minutes without bashing Bush! “He cut NASA spending –what an evil man!” [my paraphrase]. And the interviewers told us Glenn is teaching children now. Swell.

Christian Conservative on February 20, 2012 at 12:44 PM

All these great comments on this thread, yet when Newt talked about regaining the lead in Space, many mocked him. I don’t get it?

JeffVader on February 20, 2012 at 1:09 PM

Not to nitpick, but the version of the Atlas used for Mercury was actually the Atlas D:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SM-65D_Atlas

wildcat72 on February 20, 2012 at 1:20 PM

ted c on February 20, 2012 at 12:05 PM

The always-dramatic moments back in those days, were the four or so minutes during re-entry when they went completely off the air, and people who were following it nationwide were, anxiously watching their TV’s for what seemed like hours, waiting until radio contact was re-established, and the astronaut would check in.

The Soviets typically conducted all of their missions in secret, and they would announce the results to great fanfare afterward, getting the maximum spin that they could. But we really put it all, or at least most of it, right up front.

The American recoveries were always a little more dramatic, too, as our capsule programs all landed at sea, while theirs were on land. So, watching the last few minutes of descent, while quickly steaming the navel vessels right to the scene, and having the choppers find and then pluck the capsules out of the drink, were all very big parts of the drama.

This was especially so because on one very early mission — our second manned mission — (Liberty Bell 7) with Gus Grissom on board, the capsule was lost when the explosive bolts that opened the hatch went off prematurely, and the capsule took on too much water to be able to chopper lift it out of the sea.

The capsule sank, and Gus was plucked out of the water by Navy divers in his pressure suit, in a very dramatic rescue! The capsule landed about 6 miles off course, and I couldn’t find any footage of that actual rescue, but it was covered by audio.

You may recall that Liberty Bell 7 was finally found and photoed on the sea floor back in May of 1999, 38 years later, and within two months, recovered and plucked from the sea.

Trochilus on February 20, 2012 at 1:24 PM

ted c on February 20, 2012 at 10:12 AM

My dad worked for Rockwell for a time, too! His division ended up being sold, but I had some cool shuttle memorabilia from one open house they had.

GWB on February 20, 2012 at 1:40 PM

The courage of all the astronauts is both inspiring and almost impossible to comprehend. My son and I met Scott Carpenter years ago and I recall that he was also a fine gentleman and soft-spoken – but resolute as the Rocky Mountains.

Colony14 on February 20, 2012 at 1:55 PM

The Right Stuff always seemed like a highly underrated piece of cinema. So authentic and well told, with a a number of genuine laughs as a bonus.

8thAirForce on February 20, 2012 at 2:05 PM

BTW, what is up with the tiny smiley at the lower left? Easter egg?

8thAirForce on February 20, 2012 at 2:06 PM

If anyone has not already done so, get your hands on a copy of The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. I just so happen to have this book and many others by him. I have always liked his perspective and his witty and on-point writing style.

I own the movie version as well, but the book is so much better, especially the description of Chuck Yeager flying an experimental rocket plane (don’t have the book in front of me, so I don’t remember the exact name of it) and having to bail out. It’s the ending scene in the movie but it’s a much more riveting story in the book, of course.

And I absolutely love the movie “Apollo 13.” I have the book by Jim Lovell as well. The movie is one of the few in which I can stand to watch Tom Hanks, but the whole movie is done exceptionally well and reflects very accurately what the actual mission was like. The DVD has a special feature commentary by Jim and Marilyn Lovell, which in a few places is hilarious. I was not yet a teen when the Apollo 13 mission went awry, and I vaguely remember the television reports about it, but the highlight for me was getting to stay up and watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission.

PatriotGal2257 on February 20, 2012 at 2:22 PM

I remember the bright future of possibilities when this happened. I was only 7. God only knows what today’s 7-year olds make of their world!

disa on February 20, 2012 at 2:55 PM

How sad that we are forced to look back on our technological achievements. Under the heel of the current regime we have so little to look forward to.

swinia sutki on February 20, 2012 at 3:03 PM

And now we have a space station that we built and can’t even get to without the Russians. A friend of mine worked at NASA, but she quit when Obama got elected. I’ve always told her she was ahead of her time.

gordo on February 20, 2012 at 3:40 PM

My father worked on later projects in the space program — Gemini, Apollo, and the space shuttle

My father was the Maintenance Supervisor for the MSFN & Deep Space tracking stations in Madrid,Spain 1966-1970.

Frantic Freddie on February 20, 2012 at 3:52 PM

Grissom gave his life for the program in 1967 in the Apollo I fire, whose 45th anniversary was a little over three weeks ago. But as with many of our heroic tales, there were a number of people who made those heroics possible, and it’s good to see so many of the original Mercury program workers still with us today. My father worked on later projects in the space program — Gemini, Apollo, and the space shuttle — and I’m always happy to see the thousands of people who made space flight possible in the pioneering era get well-deserved accolades.

My father also worked in the space program. He was actually talking to Grissom on the radio when the explosion occurred that killed him. It shook my dad up quite a bit but he was an engineer and was ruled by reason and discipline that wouldn’t let him give up. He was utimately called to testify in front of congress in their money wasting investigation. He went on to work as a chief design engineer for the guidance systems for all of the Apollo flights to the moon. His last space project was the skylab program. Dad went on to help develop many of the modern day weapons platforms including, but not limited to, the Hell-fire missile as well as the M1A1 Tank. We lost dad in 2009 but it’s nice to know some people still remember his accomplishments.

Dollayo on February 20, 2012 at 6:20 PM

John Glenn was, repeat WAS a hero of mine until he sold his soul and his vote to Bill Clinton on a critical committee vote to get back into space.

Amendment X on February 20, 2012 at 10:01 AM

Exactly!

RJL on February 20, 2012 at 6:21 PM

Dollayo on February 20, 2012 at 6:20 PM

Wow! You know, the guys in the limelight always get the accolades. And to some degree those guys — the ones who actually put their lives on the line — do deserve some measure of special recognition.

But I’ll tell you, I am always most impressed and appreciative of the really classy up-front ones who make a point of thanking those members of the team — people like your dad — who did the real spade work that made it all possible for them to succeed.

You must be so proud of your father, and deservedly so!

Trochilus on February 20, 2012 at 9:11 PM

Trochilus on February 20, 2012 at 9:11 PM

Thank you very much. He was a very remarkable man. I could go on and on about what a great father he was but that goes beyond the scope of this thread. My dad was a genius and you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize it the minute you met him :) It was interesting to have a genius for a father, could never trick him or get anything over on him and he was impossible to live up to, at least in my eyes. But he never failed to make me proud to call him my dad. I can honestly tell you that he was a kind, loving American. There is no man in this world I could ever respect more.

Dollayo on February 21, 2012 at 12:02 AM