This week marked the passing of Astronaut and Senator John Glenn. I found myself deeply saddened. For nerds and geeks of my generation his journey on the Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962 was a defining moment. This was a true American hero, really for the ages. This was the epitome of that “American Exceptionalism” that Putin hates so much.
I was amazed at how many Facebook postings remembered John Glenn, and these brought back to the surface all the imagery remembered. We watched the launch in our elementary school – a giant television having been wheeled in for the occasion. We listened on the PA system to the moments of retrofire and return. I remember ever so vividly the pictures of him weightless in space. Those are really the iconic images that captured the moment – first in black and white, then color in Life Magazine.
But there is something else and that is the otherwise unremarkable photograph of Figure 1. It shows Glenn’s capsule, the Friendship 7, being hoisted aboard the United States Navy Destroyer USS Noa (DD-841) off the coast of Haiti on February 20, 1962. We had sent a man into Earth orbit, extracted him again, and brought him safely back to Earth. That was the moment that we knew that we could break the bonds of Earth, the moment we knew that we were going to the moon.