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John Glenn’s Launch Vaulted America Back Into the Space Race February 20, 2012

Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space.

USMC Col. John H. Glenn, Jr. lifts off from Pad 14, Cape Canaveral, on Feb. 20, 1962. His spacecraft, Friendship 7, circled the Earth three times on the Mercury Atlas 6 mission. (NASA)

Today’s 50th anniversary of the launch of John Glenn aboard Friendship 7 takes me back to my 2nd grade classroom in Baltimore, MD. All classroom activity ceased as our teacher plugged in a black and white TV set at the front of the class (brought in by a parent), so we 7-year-olds could watch Glenn’s mission unfold. We were glued to the set for all five hours of the flight. And attending Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Elementary School, we were sure that our prayers helped bring him home safely.

Here are some photos I took on Feb. 3, 2012, at Glenn’s Launch Pad 14 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Glenn's Launch Pad 14. Dusk, Feb. 3, 2012. (copyright T. Jones)

View north up the ramp to the Atlas pad, Complex 14. Note Mercury monument. The Atlantic is 100 yards to the right. (T. Jones, copyright)

Welcome sign on Complex 14 entrance gate. Feb. 3, 2012 (T. Jones)

Over blockhouse door at Pad 14, the tally of historic launches. Note that the Mercury Atlas flights mistakenly use a Mercury Redstone silhouette. Feb. 3, 2012. (T. Jones)

Beneath the welcome sign, four parking spaces are reserved for Glenn, Carpenter, Schirra, and Cooper. Feb. 3, 2012. (T. Jones)

Out at Glenn’s (and Carpenter’s, Schirra’s, and Cooper’s) pad, most of the rusting metal and wiring has been cut away. A few years ago, the rusting flame bucket was still bolted to the concrete structure. Now only the concrete remains. Our human spaceflight program is on a similar trajectory: unless budgets are increased to enable NASA to aggressively restore a domestic launch capacity (most likely via a hybrid government-commercial system, just like Glenn’s Mercury Atlas), all that we’ll find at Cape Canaveral are the rusting and crumbling concrete monuments to what was once the world’s leading space program.




1. David Clow - February 20, 2012

Magnificent and moving photos, and all the more poignant for the lighting–sunset. What a message lies here. It isn’t just the hardware that’s in the shadows now. It’s the ambition, the curiosity, and the raw drive. Thanks for these.

2. ray gabe (@rayagabe) - February 20, 2012

Very interesting images of a historic site and another compelling argument for changing the trajectory to place the USA back on a path for world leadership in space exploration. Rust NEVER sleeps! 

While I continue to have great respect for John Glenn and always grateful to NASA for all the tremendous accomplishment, I am concerned that him suggesting the Bush administration is primarily to blame for our lack of domestic launch capacity when Democrats controlled congress from 2006 to 2010, is somewhat disingenuous.

Let us never forget the tremendous accomplishments Americans made through sheer determination, commitment, and sacrifice. This could only have been achieved with a single-mined purpose and all sharing a common goal. Today, we STILL stand on giants!

I was 1 month old when Glenn successfully orbited the earth 50 years ago today and clearly recall the Apollo 11 moon landing and almost every other space mission since then. While NASA’s portion of the Federal budget peaked in 1966 @ 4.4 % and fell to less than 1 % by 1975, the 2012 budget is expected to drop below 0.5 %. In terms of constant 2007 dollars, it is now about ½ of the 1966 level of $32 B at only $17 Billion for 2012. At the same time, taxpayers must insist on high value for all expenditures while minimizing waste, fraud, and abuse.

The essential reason we MUST more adequately fund NASA is simply to retain our leadership position which provides immense, immeasurable returns – both tangible and intangible in terms of inspiring us all to reach for the stars (literally and figuratively). For without faith and trust in the concept of “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve”, humanity is surely lost. The “space race” NEVER ends!

For more perspective, see the following:


3. Jackie - February 21, 2012

Thanks to Konrad still opening doors for me, I had the priviledge of attending the 50th anniversary activities with Guenter Wendt’s daughter and Alan Shepard’s daughter. It was an honor to see Scott Carpenter and John Glenn. That was a time when we were going “gang-busters” in the space program. Very, very proud time. Wish things would go at least half that pace. We’d be going places !

4. skywalking1 - February 21, 2012

Glenn was a Democratic senator for many years and was partisan when he had to be. He advocates higher spending on the ISS and ignores the Obama administration failure to “close the gap” on a successor to the shuttle. Sen. Glenn is entitled to his point of view, but he does not rock the boat on current administration policy. I liked Carpenter’s comment over the weekend: “…we stand here waiting to be outdone.”

We’ll be waiting a while longer until new leaders focus on space leadership.

ray gabe (@rayagabe) - February 22, 2012

Replay: 50th Anniversary of Americans in Orbit “On the Shoulders of Giants” in HD! While worth viewing again from 00:00, see Carpenter’s, “waiting to be outdone” comment @ 18:00) – VERY inspirational! 🙂


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