Fifty years ago today, February 20, 1962, a 40 year old Marine Colonel climbed into a space capsule and spent 5 hours in space. John Glenn, a member of the original Mecury 7 astronauts, was the first American to orbit the earth.
In 2012 it’s easy to think this was no big thing, but it was. The Soviet Union was ahead of us in the “space race” and there was real fear that they would conquer space and gain higher ground. We believed (and may have been right) that we were locked in a struggle over which country would own the last half of the 20th century and beyond. The space race was a race for survival.
In the middle of that were the 7 Mercury astronauts. They were chosen because it was believed that they were the best of the best: the front line in this war. They were.
Colonel Glenn’s flight was not as simple as it looks. On re-entry there was fear that his heat shield was compromised; had it been true he would have been the first American killed in the space race. He is here today because his spacecraft “built by the lowest bidder” was good enough to be perfect. He is here today because today’s iPhone has 1000% the computing power of the IBM computers in 1962, but the human genius covered the rest.
We made it to the moon first, we defeated the USSR, and we’re still here.
Thank you Colonel Glenn.
PS: Of the original 7, only John Glenn and Scott Carpenter are still alive. The other five are: Gordon Cooper, Virgil I. (Gus) Grissom , Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton.