Back in February, 1962, I was in sixth grade when all school activity stopped as all classrooms at St. Philomena School were tuned in to massive black and white television sets to watch the launch and follow the flight of Friendship 7 piloted by astronaut John Glenn. Glenn would become the third American to fly into outer space and the first American to orbit the earth, which he did three times that day during his five flight before successfully returning to earth. Few people today under the age of fifty can comprehend what an enormous feat that was at the time, and it all came back to our collective consciousness's this week when John Glenn died at the age of 95.
At the height of the Cold War - the Cuban Missile Crisis was still in the future - when the USA had lost ground to the USSR in the all-important "Space Race", the successful flight (space travel is still not a sure thing in the 21st century, and it most certainly wasn't in 1962) Friendship 7 was a HUGE story in America, and it made John Glenn a hero the likes of which America had not seen in a long time, if ever. Glenn was so big, that President Kennedy silently ordered that there would be no more space flights for him, since the country could not afford to lose a hero of such magnitude in the event of a space fatality. This disappointed Glenn, but he made up for it in 1998, when at the age of 77, he became the oldest American to fly in space as a crew member of the space shuttle, Discovery.
Before all of that, Glenn was an American hero. He flew over 150 missions as fighter pilot in WW II and the Korean War, and he would also go on to serve the country as a four term United States Senator from Ohio. If anyone ever personified the "right stuff", it was John Glenn.
Glenn was the last surviving member of the original seven Mercury astronauts. I, and I am sure many of my generation, can still rattle off the names (Shepard, Grissom, Glenn, Carpenter, Cooper, Schirra, and Slayton), even though I am guessing that their names are never even mentioned in history classes in schools today. Author Tom Wolfe wrote a terrific book about the space program and the Mercury program called "The Right Stuff", and an equally terrific movie of the same name was made based upon it. As a tribute to John Glenn and his brother space pioneers, do yourself a favor and read the book or see the movie, or both. It will be time well spent.
RIP, and God speed, John Glenn.