John Glenn was quite a guy. You don’t find many role models like him these days. The ones you could hold up for kids as examples of someone pushing the boundaries of science. He was the first American to orbit the Earth. To me he stood out as someone who put in the grunt work most people miss.
It’s easy to forget that before he climbed aboard ‘Friendship 7′ spacecraft on Feb 20th 1962 for his short (4 hrs, 55 mins, and 23 secs) flight, John Glenn was a fighter pilot.*
The story not often told is that before re-entry, NASA’s Mission Control told Glenn “not to jettison the retro-rocket package after firing” in order to better hold the heat shield in place. In other words, “Wait and see – you are part of the experiment!”
At the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, standing beside Friendship 7, one marvels at the courage it took to climb into this over-sized tin-can in the interest of science, not knowing what might happen when being hurled into an orbit around the Earth at 17,000 mph.
John Glenn passed away today. He was 95.
* He flew missions in World War II, Guam, and Korea, and later served his country as a senator for 25 years. He even got back to space, briefly for a flight on the Space Shuttle.