After John Glenn’s successful orbit of the Earth in 1962, his re-entry-scorched Mercury capsule was sent on a tour of American military bases around the world. It was an opportunity that Dad, probably an Air Force staff sergeant at the time, was not going to let his family miss.
I remember staring at the capsule in awe, in part because I could almost reach out and touch something that had actually been to space and back, a mind-blowing thought at the time. And even to a little boy, the capsule seemed impossibly small to have carried a full-grown man into history as it did.
It’s hard to exaggerate the guts, bravado and faith required of Glenn and his fellow Mercury astronauts. They had, as author Tom Wolfe put it, “The Right Stuff.” (One of the original seven, Gus Grissom, was killed along with two colleagues in a launchpad accident in 1967.) Asked about how it felt to be sitting in the capsule, waiting for the rocket beneath him to ignite, Glenn said he “felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.”
After a long and honorable career in politics, Glenn even returned to space many years later, at the age of 77.
This week, 95-year-old John Glenn left us again, this time for true “final frontier.” In his memory, here’s David Bowie, himself a casualty of 2016, performing his 1969 hit “Space Oddity.”