Godspeed, John Glenn….
These were the final words spoken by Scott Carpenter, the back-up pilot and capcom (capsule communicator) for Glenn’s historic flight fifty years ago today, one day after my 9th birthday on Feb. 19, 1962. The third of seven Mercury astronauts, Glenn was already famous from previous flights he had made as a Marine and test pilot, but no American had yet circled the earth from space. Unfortunately, due to a problem with Glenn’s microphone, he was not on the correct frequency to hear Carpenter’s words. How ironic, even though the phrase became part of our everyday vocabulary after that occasion. The part Glenn did hear was the preceding phrase, “The Lord be with you all the way.”
Back in those days, the US was behind the Soviet Union in the Space Race; and every American was excited to think that we were about to catch up to the Russian effort. Originally scheduled to fly several months earlier than he did, Glenn was finally launched into space aboard an Atlas rocket on February 20, after delays due to fuel leaks, weather, and a host of other problems; naming his ship Friendship 7, in honor of the original 7 Mercury astronauts.
I remember the day vividly. My Dad woke me early, as he had done on both previous launches of Mercury astronauts, Alan Shepherd and Gus Grissom, who each completed sub-orbital flights prior to Glenn’s attempt. Frankly, I had also prepared for launch days on other occasions, but for some reason, they were scrubbed and I was always left sadly disappointed, but not that day! Dad came into my room, dressed in his maroon robe and brown leather slippers, holding a cup of black coffee, letting me know that the TV was on in our living room. Back in those days, we only had one television and it was a black and white Magnavox. We kept it in the dining room on Claremont Avenue and when we wanted to watch in the living room, we kind of swung it around the corner. It was a floor model, on wheels, so it made it a little easier to move into the other room. I didn’t even want to sit in a chair. I loved the space program and wanted to be as close to the TV as possible, so I laid on the floor so I could be up close to the picture.
There were numerous holds and launch delays, but as I recall, the rocket took off right before school on that Tuesday morning in 1962. Glenn was originally scheduled for at least seven orbits, but problems arose aboard the spacecraft and a decision was made to bring him back after only three orbits. In fact, Glenn reported that he thought he was fireflies outside the window, which were later confirmed, on a subsequent flight, to be ice crystals that had come off the side of the capsule. There was also a thruster malfunction and concerns that the heat shield would fail on re-entry. This would have resulted in Glenn’s death upon reentering the earth’s atmosphere. But in the end, it all worked out well, with the exception that Glenn landed approximately 40 miles short of the targeted landing zone, as the engineers had failed to account for the weight difference in the capsule as a result of fuel used for thrusters and re-entry.
Back in those days, as a little kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. I couldn’t wait for launches of the Mercury astronauts and I confess, I never cared for the Gemini or Apollo missions as much as those first manned flights. They were absolutely awesome. You can tell that I got really jazzed with all the space stuff and I could spout statistics and launch code with the best of them. Dad kind of got into it also, but not like I did. However, I do remember how he would sit with me, watching TV in the early morning dark, drinking coffee and smoking Pall Mall cigarettes as Frank McGee and Walter Cronkite brought the reality of the launch right into our living room. How I loved that stuff….
Anyway, today marks the 50th anniversary of that incredible flight. John Glenn also flew onboard the shuttle years later, at the age of 77, the oldest astronaut to ever fly in space. Today, he still resides in Ohio, at the age of 90, with his wife Annie, who is 92. After years as a US Senator from Ohio, and after all he has accomplished, he states there is only one man he is envious of – Neil Armstrong – the first man to set foot on the moon. In any event, Glenn is an American legend and today we salute his bravery and the zeal of the American public to conquer the “final frontier.”
The verse for today is strangely appropriate. It is the same verse that Columbus referenced to make his point that the earth was round, back when he set off for the New World, discovering America in 1492. From Isaiah 40:22, “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.” In this verse, the reference is to God, and isn’t it strange that way back then, the Bible referenced that God was above “the circle” of the earth. Probably better translated “sphere”, we nonetheless get the idea. Even back then, it was known, from the Bible, that the earth was round!
My encouragement this evening is to affirm that God does sit enthroned above the earth and He knows what is going on in His kingdom. My prayer is that God will protect us from evil and that we will rest in His protection all the days of our lives – Godspeed….