50 years ago - John Glenn circles the Earth

MayrMeninoCrash

Liberal Psycopath
Dec 9, 2004
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Only 2 of the Original Mercury 7 astronauts left :(



CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Veterans of NASA's Project Mercury reunited Saturday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of John Glenn's orbital flight, visiting the old launch pad and meeting the famed astronaut himself.

The first American to orbit the Earth thanked the approximately 125 retired Mercury workers, now in their 70s and 80s, who gathered with their spouses at Kennedy Space Center to swap stories and pose for pictures.

"We might have been the focal point of attention, but you were all the ones making the whole thing possible," Glenn told the crowd.

Glenn and Scott Carpenter, the only other survivor of NASA's original Mercury 7 astronauts, spent nearly an hour being photographed with the retirees, posing in front of a black curtain with a model of a Mercury-Atlas rocket. Glenn is 90; Carpenter is 86.

Earlier in the afternoon, the Mercury brigade traveled by bus to Launch Complex 14. That's the pad from which Glenn rocketed away on Feb. 20, 1962.

Some retirees were in wheelchairs, while others used walkers or canes. Most walked, some more surely than others. But they all beamed with pride as they took pictures of the abandoned pad and of each other, and went into the blockhouse to see the old Mercury photos on display and to reminisce.

As retired engineer Norm Beckel Jr. rode to the pad Saturday, he recalled being seated in the blockhouse right beside Carpenter as the astronaut called out to Glenn right before liftoff, "Godspeed John Glenn." Carpenter would duplicate Glenn's orbital flight three months later..But there's more to the story.

"Before he said that, he said, 'Remember, John, this was built by the low bidder,'" Beckel, 81, told The Associated Press.

The Mercury-Atlas rocket shook the domed bunker-like structure, although no one inside could hear the roar because of the thick walls.

"Nothing was said by anybody until they said, 'He's in orbit,' and then the place erupted," Beckel recalled.

Beckel and Jerry Roberts, 78, a retired engineer who also was in the blockhouse that historic day, said almost all the workers back then were in their 20s and fresh out of college. The managers were in their 30s. "I don't know if I'd trust a 20-year-old today," Beckel said.

"They don't know it, but we would have worked for nothing," said Roberts, who spends the winter in Florida.

As John Glenn, the world's most enduring and endearing spaceman, gets set to celebrate what no other living astronaut has done — mark the 50th anniversary of his own spaceflight — he finds himself in overdrive reflecting on what has been an undeniably charmed, golden life.

Women on the team
The Mercury team included women, about 20 of whom gathered for the anniversary festivities. One pulled aside an Associated Press reporter to make sure she knew women were part of the team.

"Most of the women here are wives," said Lucy Simon Rakov, 74. But not her.

"We weren't secretaries. We were mathematicians," said Rakov, a pioneering computer programmer who traveled from Boston for the reunion.

Patricia Palombo, 74, also a computer programmer, said working on Project Mercury proved to be the most significant thing she's done in her career.

Glenn's flight was the turning point that put America on a winning path that ultimately led to the moon.

"It's been downhill from here," Palombo said with a laugh. She lives near Washington, D.C.

18-hour days
Roberts praised the wives who endured the hardships back then. He recalled how he and his colleagues worked 16- and 18-hour days, seven days a week, especially after the Soviet Union grabbed the prize of first spaceman with Yuri Gagarin in April 1961. Gagarin reached orbit on his mission; another Soviet cosmonaut also rocketed into orbit before Glenn's voyage.

Alan B. Shepard Jr. was the first American in space in May 1961, followed by Virgil "Gus" Grissom two months later, but neither of their flights orbited the Earth.

Many marriages ended in divorce because of the excessive workload, Roberts noted. Turning to his wife, Sandra, he said proudly, "This gal's been with me for 57 years."
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/46443357/ns/technology_and_science-space/