'Godspeed John Glenn': A Historic Flight
It was 1962. Cold War was in full swing, as two ideologies clashed -- a Democratic United States of America against a Communist Russia. The U.S had woken up to a rude shock with Russia's launch of Sputnik spacecraft in 1957. When President Kennedy took office in 1961, he promised to put a man on the moon within a decade.
On Feb 20, 1962, after 10 failed attempts at launch, the US made a breakthrough in space race -- Glenn completed three successful orbits around the Earth in his space capsule Friendship 7. He returned to a hero's welcome, with U.S President Kennedy rushing to Cape Canaveral, Florida to greet him personally. This success spurred Americans to dream beyond the reaches of space, and eventually drove them enough to reach the Moon.
On Feb 20, 2012, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Glenn's historic flight into space. At 90, Glenn is one of two surviving members of the original Mercury astronaut team and will be in the spotlight once again with special events planned at Cape Canaveral. Scott Carpenter is 86, and will be part of the weekend festiviies as well.
'Godspeed John Glenn'
Born on July 18, 1921, John Glenn’s passion was flight. He took college courses in aviation and physics, and was part of the US air force. He was assigned to a variety of army planes before he was called up to NASA for its Mercury space program. After years of intense training, Glenn was ready.. but NASA wasn't.
Reporters camped outside Cape Canaveral were getting restless as 10 launch attempts were cancelled. Glenn had even suited up (in space gear) for four! Finally, Friendship 7 took off at the 11th attempt, with Scott Carpenter, a backup astronaut and member of the Mercury team, bidding him 'Godspeed John Glenn' as the hatch closed. The mission wasn't perfect but it had put America on the space map.
Glenn led quite a lively life after his space work. He retired from NASA to pursue politics. Although a lesser known part of his life, he spent four terms as a senator and even ran for president! Glenn became the oldest person in space at age 77 in 1998 when he traveled aboard Space Shuttle Discovery.
The Space Program today is a lot different from the days of the Space Race. As the government tries to cut funding in an attempt to reduce the deficit, NASA has fallen under the axe. Under the Bush administration, plans to retire the space fleet by 2011 and build a base on the moon were announced. However, since the moon base was not funded adequately, President Obama subsequently canceled the program in 2008. He proposed depending on private companies to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), and focus Nasa's efforts on deep space exploration (Mars and beyond).
With politics in the way, not much progress has been made. The shuttles were retired last year, and NASA pays Russia $60 million per astronaut for a ride to the ISS. Glenn worries about America's reliance on the Russian aging Soyuz shuttles as the only way into space, and that the U.S may be seven to ten years behind on their next space program.
Space exploration has certainly come a long way since those heady early days in the 1960s. We’ve seen our solar system with Hubble and such, sent explored Mars with rovers, and grown our universal knowledge. What do you think we should explore next?