I’m sure most of you have heard that former Astronaut John Glenn passed away today at the age of 95. I was only seven years old, the age of my grandson right now, when Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule on February 20, 1962. Obviously, I only had a child’s point of view of the event, but I had become fascinated with spaceflight ever since my Dad pointed out what he thought was the Sputnik satellite in the night sky (as an adult, I would find out that Sputnik could not be seen from Earth with the unaided eye, and what we were seeing was the booster used to put it into orbit, tumbling end over end).
I remember having a plastic toy Mercury spacecraft. You could remove the bottom, put the toy astronaut inside, reattach the two pieces, and pretend to blast off.
I eagerly followed the manned space program, from Mercury, to Gemini, and then Apollo.
I remember watching Neil Armstrong take his first step on the Moon, his “one small step for man,” on July 21, 1969, just a few days before my fifteenth birthday.
I was reminded by something a person put on twitter that Glenn is the last of the original Mercury 7 team. They’re all gone now, and with them, a precious piece of lived history and a very special place in my childhood.
It seems like we’ve been stuck in orbital space forever. Sure, we have robots all over Mars and in orbit around the planet. We have robots in various other parts of our solar system, and the Voyager 1 probe has left our solar system entirely, our first explorer of interstellar space.
But if one name stands out in my memory of manned space exploration and a true American hero, it’s Colonel John Glenn, war hero, test pilot, astronaut, and statesman. He was a hero in a time when it seemed like everything we did as a nation was an adventure.
Granted, as I’ve said before, all that was filtered through the eyes of a young boy, but we still need heroes like Glenn, men and women we can look up to with pride and even desire to emulate.
Rest in a well deserved peace, John. Thank you for being my hero.