COMMENTARY: Godspeed, John Glenn. With those words spoken by Alan Shepard, John Glenn achieved immortality as the first American to go into orbit around the earth on Feb. 20, 1962.
Godspeed, John Glenn
With those words spoken by Alan Shepard, John Glenn achieved immortality as the first American to go into orbit around the earth on Feb. 20, 1962. Though Shepard and Gus Grissom had gone into space earlier than Glenn, his flight was the first to actually orbit around the earth. It gave hope to Americans of al walks of life in the race for space with the Russians, and would eventually lead to the U.S. landing on the moon on 1969 by another Ohioan, Neil Armstrong, in Apollo 11.
Glenn was a true hero, not one of today's make believe wannabe sports or rock star figures. He was the real McCoy, a decorated World War II pilot who then flew in Korea and shot down three Mig-15 fighters. Following that, he became a test pilot and set a transcontinental speed record from Los Angeles to New York. He was one of the original seven Mercury Astronaut who were picked to become the first Americans to go into space. After the Mercury program, Glenn would later go on to serve as a U.S. senator and again return to space in 1998, the oldest person to ever do so at the age of 77.
But Glenn epitomized a simpler time in our history. Back when he went into space, America was a different place. I remember well that time. I was in the 8th grade at St. Francis de Sales and on the day of the launch our teacher, Mr. Longville, allowed us to bring in a portable black and white TV to watch the launch. Back then, there were no televisions in the classroom, and a color TV was only something rich people had. There was no high tech back then. But for us it was a real treat.
Even though we had watched the earlier launches all of us were concerned about the possibility that the launch would fail and Glenn would perish. As it turned out, our concerns were real and there were problems with the flight. But fortune smiled down on Glenn that day and he returned to a tumultuous national reception as a hero to the American people.
John Glenn became my boyhood. At that time, my desire, like many other young boys, to be an astronaut was at full-go and I read everything I could get my hands on about becoming one. But reality set in as I got older and the dream slowly faded, as my attempt to become a military pilot was cut short by an eye problem. But the desire was still there and later I applied for a flight position on the space shuttle as part of the NASA Teacher in Space Project. Fortunately, as it turned out, I wasn't chosen, as that was the ill-fated Challenger mission, which resulted in the destruction of the shuttle and the deaths of the entire crew.
But back then Glenn was a hero to all of us. He had defied the odds and gone into space to put us back in the race for space with the Russians. All Americans were proud of his accomplishment. Little did we know that within a few years our perception of our country would be shaken to the very core with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the trauma of the Vietnam War. More would come with the riots for Civil Rights and Watergate in later years. But on that glorious day in February, 1962, John Glenn gave this country hope in itself and became a true hero. In 1983, the blockbuster movie, "The Right Stuff" came out, based on the book of the same name by Tom Wolfe. It chronicled the race for space and the Mercury Space Program and was a fairly accurate portrayal of the events that led up to Glenn's historic flight.
The Greeks believe that as long as a man's name is remembered, he will be immortal. As long as the history of flight is kept, John Glenn's name and accomplishments will give him that immortality.