Thursday, December 8, 2016

Godspeed, John Glenn!

As I watch another year come to an end, I have lost another one of my childhood heroes—John Glenn. Serving in the Peace Corps has made me even more nostalgic for the early 1960s Kennedy era that I can just barely remember. The NASA and the Peace Corps were two of President Kennedy's most important programs.

I'm not sure if I specifically remember Glenn's Atlas-Mercury flight in the Friendship 7, the first American flight to orbit the Earth. However, I do remember at least some of the Mercury space flights. I think I also remember the ticker-tape parades that some of these Cold War heroes received upon their return.

That is why when Senator John Glenn took a ride on the Space Shuttle in 1998, I wanted to show my appreciation. I drove an hour or so north from my home in West Virginia to the small Ohio town of New Concord. In 1962, he had received a huge welcome home parade in his little hometown, and they were going to try and recreate it in December 1998. I don't have any photographs from that day, but I did find this neat NASA photograph of Glenn with his beloved wife Annie in the 1962 parade in New Concord.

Because space flight had become routine, and most Americans were rather nonchalant about it, there was not an overwhelming crowd this time. However, New Concord put its best foot forward and those like myself who made the trek got a good taste of his hometown's hospitality. I especially remember some homemade versions of the Space Shuttle and his Mercury capsule that were pulled on floats, interspersed among marching bands, in the parade.

I also remember running into Niki Wenger, the West Virginia Teacher in Space finalist who had worked at NASA when I was there in the 1980s. We had an enjoyable conversation as we awaited Senator Glenn's remarks in the gymnasium of his alma mater, Muskingum University.

All in all, it was a very good day, and it is enjoyable to remember it on this otherwise sad occasion. I'm glad I made the effort to pay tribute to this admirable American. It is disappointing to know that all the original Mercury astronauts are now gone. I guess it is a sign that I'm getting old. At least I'm doing what I can to pass along an interest in space to the students here in my village.

As backup astronaut Scott Carpenter famously wished him during the launch, “Godspeed, John Glenn!” Thanks for the memories!

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