Tag Archives: John Glenn

Hoping for a return of a can-do spirit and drive

Americans are looking back with some sort of fondness at an event that occurred 50 years ago.

Yes, we won that race to the moon. Two American astronauts landed on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong stepped off the lander’s ladder and declared that he was taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

For years I had thought that Armstrong’s transmission got garbled somehow, that he really did say it was one “small step for a man.” Alas, that was mistaken ‚Ķ apparently. Armstrong flubbed the line, or so I learned.

President Kennedy had laid down the marker in 1961. He declared that we should get to the moon by the end of the 1960s. The president rallied the nation to his dream. He ventured to Houston and said that “we don’t do these things because they are easy. We do them because they are hard.”

And so the race was on.

Hey, we had a geopolitical adversary that had rubbed our noses in it. The Soviet Union launched the first satellite. The USSR put the first man into space.

Meanwhile, as the nation’s prepared to launch humans into space, we couldn’t get a rocket off the pad. They were exploding. Our national psyche suffered.

But we got into space. We put two men into sub-orbital flight. We finally put a man into orbit with John Glenn’s historic three-orbit flight in February 1962.

President Kennedy, of course, didn’t live to see his dream come true. Still, the mission proceeded at full throttle.

The Apollo 11 mission was the culmination of a national task. The world held its breath. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left indelible prints on the dusty lunar surface. Those boot prints remain there to this day. There would be others, too.

Over the span of time our manned missions dissipated and all but disappeared. The Soviet Union vanished from Earth in 1991. Russian rockets are taking Americans into space these days. I wonder what President Kennedy would think of that development.

I suppose you could say that the Apollo 11 mission was the beginning of our exploration of another celestial body. It actually was the beginning of the end of our grand adventure.

However, I do hope we get back into space. Human beings need to explore. We are built and wired to do great things.

A half-century ago we cheered the heroism of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, the third astronaut who orbited the moon while waiting for his shipmates to return. These men exemplified a can-do spirit that I am missing today.

I hope we can find it … and soon.

Another astronaut-hero leaves us

There once was a time when Americans knew the names of all the astronauts who dared to risk it all for the cause of space exploration.

John Young was one of those men. He died this weekend at age 87. I am saddened to hear this news.

Those of us of a certain age remember waiting with bated breath while space ships launched from Florida and flew into the heavens. Those were exciting times. The nation was engaged in a space race with the Soviet Union. We won the race … eventually.

Young wasn’t among the first seven men picked to fly into space. The Mercury Seven all are gone now. The last member of that original group to pass from the scene was the great John Glenn, the former Ohio U.S. senator who flew aboard the shuttle Discovery 36 years after he became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962.

John Young was among the Gemini astronauts who followed the Mercury heroes into space. Young flew twice aboard Gemini missions.

Then he got to fly to the moon twice; he orbited the moon aboard Apollo 10 and then walked on its surface as the commander of Apollo 16.

Oh, but Young wasn’t done.

NASA developed the space shuttle, a reusable ship. Young got to command the first shuttle, Columbia, on its maiden flight in 1981. He would command a second shuttle flight later before joining NASA’s administrative team before retiring in 2004.

A reporter asked Young after he flew the Columbia to a safe landing after its first flight whether he landed it manually — or whether he let the computer land it. No pilot worth a damn, Young said, would want to let a computer do something that a pilot could do by himself. That was his way of saying he had his hands “on the stick” when he guided the shuttle Columbia home.

John Young quite clearly was made of the right stuff.

Hollywood creates fascinating juxtaposition

Hollywood gets panned and pounded for the occasional liberties it takes with historical events.

But consider this for a moment.

Today is the 55th anniversary of a space flight in which the late John Glenn, a young Marine Corps test pilot, orbited the Earth three times. It would be the first of his two flights into space; the second one occurred in 1998, when Sen. Glenn was 77 years of age.

But get this: February also is Black History Month and Hollywood has managed to merge an important aspect of Glenn’s first flight with another. Glenn owed his flight’s success to the genius of a group of African-American women who relatively few Americans knew about until the release of the acclaimed film “Hidden Figures.”

Think of it. Glenn’s historic flight now can be celebrated as a key event to salute African-Americans. What’s more, that it occurred on Feb. 20, 1962 puts it in the middle of the month we set aside to commemorate the contributions of black Americans to the development of this great nation.

“Hidden Figures” tells the story of three young African-American women — two mathameticians and an engineer — who, with their team of fellow geniuses, worked with NASA to calculate the math associated with space flight.

The contributions of these women were kept under wraps at the time. It was the early 1960s and America was in the throes of the civil-rights movement. The country was unable — or unwilling — to accept the contributions¬†these women gave¬†to this great adventure known as the “space race.”

The film has put an entirely different¬†spin on the “race” aspect of the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union.

I am one who is thrilled to meld these two events — Black History Month and the flight of our first space orbital mission — into one.

Well done, Hollywood.

Goodbye and good riddance, 2016


We’re still about two weeks from the end of a truly crappy year.

Not for me personally, mind you. My health remains good, as does my wife’s health. We’re¬†spending more time on the road in our recreational vehicle and having a blast every mile we’ve traveled. Our family is doing well, too. We’ve got some big changes in store for the coming year. You’ll be hearing about them as they develop.

No, this year sucks out loud because of the deaths that have occurred. I hope I’m not getting ahead of myself by taking note this far in advance of the end of the year. It’s been a tough time for iconic figures. For instance, we lost:

David Bowie, the genius British musician, songwriter, actor and trailblazing artist, died of cancer. Iggy Stardust is no longer with us. I knew he had cancer, but like a lot of his fans, I was unaware that his time had run out.

Prince died at his suburban Minneapolis mansion. Talk about a genius. Wow! Have you seen that tremendous guitar riff he did during the 2002 concert memorializing the late Beatle George Harrison? He also left behind a vault full of hundreds of unpublished songs.

Muhammad Ali bid us farewell. This one hurt terribly. The three-time heavyweight boxing champion was far more than a warrior in the ring. He was a champion for the causes in which he believed. He fought for civil rights, against the Vietnam War (which cost  him his title) and for justice. Oh, and he was the most beautiful fighter any of us ever had seen. He fought with power and blazing speed and grace.

Arnold Palmer is gone, too. They called him The King of Golf. His majesty, indeed, brought golf into the television age. He was a man’s man. He played great — and exciting — golf. He was a middle-class guy who won — and lost — in unconventional ways. Fellow golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez once said it well: “Every golfer today owes everything to¬† Arnold Palmer.”

John Glenn was 95 when he died just recently. He was a former U.S. senator, a Marine fighter pilot and an astronaut. Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth, on Feb. 20, 1962. He returned to space 36 years later to become the oldest man, at age 77, to ever fly in space; he took his place in the space shuttle Discovery, which lifted off the launch pad carrying “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

I cannot recall a single year producing this level of national and international mourning.

Oh, and we had that presidential campaign, too. It didn’t turn out the way many of us wanted. We’ll persevere, I’m sure.

So long, 2016, and good riddance! You really sucked all year long.

Hoping for the next true American hero


Dale Butland has written a truly depressing essay about the death of John Glenn.

Writing for the New York Times, Butland — who once worked for the one-time Ohio U.S. senator — seems to think Glenn is the “last American hero” … ever!

I wince at the thought. I shudder to think that there won’t be someone who can¬†capture Americans’ hearts the way Glenn did in 1962.

The essay itself isn’t depressing. Its premise, though, surely is.


Do I have any clue, any idea where the next hero will appear?

Of course not!

However, I am going to remain the eternal optimist that we haven’t yet traipsed through the portal that takes us all into some parallel universe where no heroes can ever exist.

Sure, Glenn was an exceptional American. A Marine Corps fighter pilot who saw combat in World War II and Korea. The astronaut who became the first American to orbit the planet. A successful business executive. A close friend of John and Robert Kennedy and their families. A four-term U.S. senator. A man who got the call once again, at age 77, to fly into space aboard the space shuttle Discovery.

He became “an American legend.”

That, dear reader, is a full life.

Is he the final legendary figure ever to walk among us?

Oh, man … I pray that someone will emerge.

Let’s get back into space


John Glenn’s death reminded many of us old enough to remember such things about how space travel once thrilled the nation.

It was a new thing back then, when Glenn orbited the planet three times in just a little less than five hours. We were riveted to our TV screens. We held our breath. We prayed for the safe return of these men.

Then, oh so strangely, space flight became “routine.” Routine! Are you kidding me?

How ridiculous! You put human beings on top of a missile loaded with flammable fuel, light the rocket and hurl these humans into orbit at 17,000 mph. That becomes routine?

We launched men into orbit during the Mercury space program. Then came the Gemini program that featured two-person space ships. After that, it was the big one, the Apollo program that sent men to the moon.

Those missions became so “routine” that the space agency stopped sending men to the moon, apparently believing they had done all they could do.

Skylab came later. The space shuttle program followed that.

About six years ago, we grounded the remaining shuttle fleet — after two of the ships, Challenger and Columbia, were lost, killing 14 crew members. Routine? Hardly.

I’m recalling the adventure associated with John Glenn’s first flight into space and hoping for a time when we can send human beings back into space aboard our own rocket ships. Today, we’re relying on Russia to ferry our men and women into Earth orbit — and I’m trying to imagine how President Kennedy, who challenged the nation to put men on the moon by the end of the 1960s,¬†would react that knowledge.

I came of age watching the space program take flight. I am old enough to remember how these missions forced us all to hold our breath when these heroes were thrown into space.

The next step awaits. It no doubt will involve sending humans way past the moon and toward places like Mars. I hope to live long enough to see that occur.

I will wait anxiously for a day when we can view spaceflight once again as the spine-tingling adventure it’s always been.

Glenn tributes take note of his political decency


John Glenn was a bona bide American hero. An icon. A legendary figure.

He earned all of that mostly through his exploits as a wartime Marine Corps pilot and, a test pilot¬†then as an astronaut. Glenn was the first American to orbit the planet. He came home and accepted the nation’s gratitude for helping it keep pace with the Soviet Union in the bilateral space race that had commenced.

Glenn died today at the age of 95 and observers are¬†looking back at another part of this great man’s life: his political career.

Ohio voters elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1974. And throughout the day — and likely for the days and weeks to follow — I’ve been hearing folks talk about his decency as a politician. Yes, I know, it’s difficult to see the words “decency” and “politician” written in the same sentence.

“Why don’t we have people like this in the Senate any longer?” That’s a question I’ve heard asked.

Glenn was known to stand up for former foes because it was the right thing to do. I’ve heard statements today about how this hero/icon never surrendered his small-town values. Some of his colleagues and political pals talked about how he sought to do what was right for the country, that he didn’t seek the easy political solution.

MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews noted today that Glenn’s most endearing quality arguably¬†was that he was “a square.” He wasn’t flashy. He wasn’t flamboyant.¬†Sen. Glenn¬†and his childhood sweetheart Annie were married for¬†73 years.

Glitz and glamor were not his gig.

Political life has taken a seriously grim turn since the days when John Glenn served in the Senate. Every so often, one can hear politicians praise each other from across the aisle that separates them. Some of them did so Wednesday when Vice President Joe Biden said farewell to his former Senate colleagues. Republicans and Democrats all sang from the same sheet in praise of the vice president. So, it’s good to ask: Why is that such a big deal? My answer: Because it’s so damn rare!

John Glenn embodied a kinder, gentler time in American politics, and from what I’ve been able to glean from the tributes today, that is how he served his beloved state of Ohio and the nation.

A great American has just left us


A great American life has come to an end.

We shouldn’t mourn John Glenn’s death, which was announced this afternoon. We should celebrate what this man accomplished during his 95 years among us.

What a man! What a life! What an extraordinary legacy he leaves!

I almost feel as though I’ve lost a member of my family.

Glenn and six other Americans burst onto the scene in the late 1950s when a newly formed agency, NASA, selected these men to become the first Americans to fly into space.

Glenn would be third of them. He was the first American to orbit the planet.

This is just one chapter of this great man’s life.

He joined the Marine Corps. He flew combat missions during the Korean War. Then he became a test pilot. Then NASA selected him to fly into space. He took three quick trips around Earth, returned home and didn’t fly again into space again for another 36 years.

In the meantime, he got elected to the U.S. Senate from Ohio, ran or president once in 1984. Along the way, he became friends with presidents, princes and potentates.


In 1998, he flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery. Sen. Glenn had a distinct advantage over two¬†other members of Congress who flew previously into space — U.S. Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, and U.S. Rep. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.¬†The Discovery flight crew and its support team didn’t have to translate their unique language to Glenn as they prepared for their flight. Glenn was fluent in astronaut-speak.

He boarded Discovery and the ship roared off the pad as the¬†public address¬†announcer¬†told the world about the launch of the shuttle carrying “six astronaut heroes …¬†and one American legend.”


Why the family-like connection with Glenn?

My mother and I were addicted to watching these early Mercury launches. We would awaken early and wait, and wait and wait some more for these rockets to blast off.

On Feb. 20, 1962 — after an interminable number of weather-related delays, holds, and mission scrubs —¬†Mom and I¬†watched on our black-and-white TV as Glenn Mercury-Atlas rocket¬†roared into space.

The flight lasted about five hours. Then he splashed down — and came home a hero. They had a ticker-tape parade in New York. President Kennedy toasted him at the White House.

John Glenn was a glamorous kind of guy. Ruggedly handsome, he fit central casting’s description of a test pilot-turned astronaut.

There’s perhaps a touch of irony that Glenn would be the final Mercury astronaut to pass on. He was the oldest among them; Glenn was¬†40 at the time of his first flight aboard Friendship 7 in 1962.

So it is, then, that we remember this great American.

I’m thinking at this very moment of something his late Mercury colleague Scott Carpenter said to Glenn as his friend sat atop the rocket waiting to be blasted into space.

Godspeed, John Glenn.

Get well, Sen. Glenn

I just heard that former U.S. Sen. John Glenn is in the hospital.

He’s 95 years of age now. He has lived an extraordinary life.

Marine Corps fighter pilot during the Korean War; test pilot; astronaut selected among the first men to fly into space; the first American to orbit planet Earth; U.S. senator; a return to space on the space shuttle Discovery.

The video here chronicles the launch of Glenn’s second trip into space. It took place in 1998, 36 years after he flew those three orbits aboard the Mercury spacecraft.

I get choked up every time I hear the space flight communicator announce the launch of “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

Get well, Sen. Glenn.

Hoping for a return of manned space program


The thought just occurred to me that of the original men chosen to fly into space, only one of them remains among us.

He is John Glenn, who’s now¬†94 years of age.

From what I understand, Glenn remains in good physical condition. But, hey, he is 94. At that age, you live one day at a time, or so many of the 90-somethings I’ve known have told me.

What troubles me particularly about Glenn’s advanced age is that once he leaves us, there will no one left¬†from that exhilarating time who can argue forcefully for the return of the manned space program in this country.

John Glenn: still a legend

The Bush administration announced plans to retire the space shuttle program and then the Obama administration followed through with the plan. Two of the shuttles were destroyed by tragic accidents, leaving just three ships in use: Atlantis, Endeavor and Discovery. Challenger blew up shortly after liftoff in January 1986 and Columbia — with Amarillo’s Rick Husband in command — disintegrated upon re-entry in February 2003.

After the final shuttle mission — the flight of Atlantis in July 2011 — U.S. astronauts have been ferried into space aboard Russian rockets to spend time in the International Space Station. Think of that for a moment. During the height of the space race, of which Glenn was a major player, it would seem unthinkable that we’d ever have to depend on our adversary to take our astronauts into space.

We’re not hearing much talk during this presidential election campaign about the future of manned space travel. We don’t know whether Republican Donald J. Trump or Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton will light the fire that re-ignites our national pride in the effort to explore beyond the bounds of our planet.

I know that NASA is working on a new launch vehicle that will take humans into space. I understand the space agency has plenty of work on its plate; it has unmanned probes to launch and plenty of research to complete. NASA, though, seems to be working in a closet. Does anyone ever hear updates, progress reports on the development of that launch vehicle?

Americans have few legends who can speak with authority on such things. John Glenn — who later served several terms as a U.S. senator from Ohio — is one of them who can speak with clarity and credibility on the value that space exploration brings to us.

If only we could keep him around forever.

We cannot, of course.

I get that we have a lot of pressing issues that are consuming presidential candidates’ time and attention.

My hope is that we will start hearing from one or both of the major candidates about how they intend to accelerate our return to space exploration.

I relished those mornings awaiting those¬†flights by John Glenn and his early astronaut colleagues. I’m ready to get excited once again.