Tag Archives: John Glenn

‘One American legend …’

I am going to divulge a little secret, which isn’t really a secret, even though I have heard no mention of this date in the media, which is not to say that it has been ignored completely. I just haven’t heard anything said about it

On this day 60 years ago, a young Marine Corps pilot took off aboard an Atlas rocket and became the first American to orbit Earth. John Glenn was a 40-year-old member of the first team of astronauts chosen by the space agency to lead this country into space. Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom flew the first two sub-orbital flights. This one was different. It fell to Glenn to become the first American to take three 90-minute spins around the globe and, thus, become part of American lore.

My mother and I were addicted to the space program in those days. I was not quite 13 years old. We had awakened several previous mornings waiting for Glenn to blast off aboard Friendship 7, the tiny Mercury space capsule into which he squeezed his body.

Mission Control gave him the go-ahead — finally! — on Feb. 20, 1962. Off he flew. Three orbits. That’s all, man. Then he came home and rode into instant fame and glory. The young pilot from Ohio, who flew combat missions during the Korean War, was hailed as a hero with ticker-tape parades and audiences with the president and royalty around a planet he had seen from a couple hundred miles in space.

Ah, but his public service didn’t end there. He resigned from NASA. Glenn entered politics and became a U.S. senator from Ohio. Glenn ran for president in1984, but unlike his Friendship 7 ship, his effort never left the ground.

Then came another thrill for Sen. Glenn and for those of us who followed the space program. NASA had gone through the Mercury, Gemini, Skylab and Apollo space programs. It had a fleet of space shuttles, those reusable ships that flew into orbit many times. One of them was named Discovery. In 1998, Sen. Glenn got the call to suit up once more. He trained along with his shuttle crewmates for a lengthy mission. NASA wanted to test the effects of zero gravity on old folks; Glenn qualified, as he was 77 years of age, making him the oldest individual to fly into space.

Ahh, but the Discovery launch a moment I never will forget. The controllers counted down the time, the booster rockets ignited, and the ship lifted off the Florida launch pad. The public address announcer told the world that Discovery had launched, carrying “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

And so … I recall the day 60 years ago that a young man — and please pardon the reference — with the right stuff flew into the sky and carved into stone his prominent place in our nation’s glorious history.


Are they astronauts? No!

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have flown to the edge of space.

I have heard a bit of chatter in recent days over whether these two zillionaire business moguls are astronauts now that they have “slipped the surly bonds of Earth,” if only for a few minutes.

I’ll go with “no.” They are not astronauts. They are rich guys who hired space professionals to do the heavy lifting. They were merely passengers aboard their respective ships.

The others? I’ll give Wally Funk — the 82-year-old female test pilot — a pass on the astronaut claim. She flew on Bezos’s mission alongside Bezos and two others. She had trained to fly as an astronaut in the early 1960s; then NASA killed the woman in space program, denying Funk the chance to actually fly into space.

I once got into a snit (one of many) with a critic of this blog, the late Andrew Ryan, over my dismissal of U.S. Sens. Jake Garn and Bill Nelson, who flew aboard two shuttle missions. I declined to consider them astronauts, even though they trained alongside the space pros with whom they flew. I’ll concede that Andy Ryan was right and I was wrong about Garn, a Utah Republican and Nelson, a Florida Democrat.

Oh, and what about the third U.S. senator to fly on a shuttle mission? You’ve heard of this guy: John Glenn, an Ohio Democrat. He flew as a Mercury astronaut in February 1962, the first American to orbit Earth. Thirty-six years later, he took part in a Discovery shuttle mission.

Two very cool things about Glenn’s shuttle flight need mentioning. One is that NASA’s other astronauts did not need to translate the language they spoke while training with Glenn; the great man was fluent in astronaut-speak. The second aspect of the launch was when the shuttle’s engines ignited and the ship lifted off, the public address announcer declared the launch of Discovery carrying “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

Bezos and Branson may be legends in their own minds. Neither of them is an astronaut.

We just didn’t know about this

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Mary Wallace Funk is my newest hero.

She goes these days by the name of Wally Funk. She became a household name this morning when she rocketed for a few moments into space aboard Jeff Bezos’s rocket that took off from the Trans-Pecos region Texas.

Why is she my hero? Because as a boy I was keenly interested in the space program created during the Eisenhower administration, developed later during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. However, there appears to have been huge gap in my knowledge of the early years.

I did not know a thing about the women who took part in those early developmental years. Wally Funk was one of them. She trained right along with the Mercury Seven astronauts selected to be the space pioneers. Then the National Aeronautics and Space Administration canceled the women’s program. So help me I do not recall ever hearing about this program as I was being taught in public school way back then in Portland, Ore.

Wally Funk becomes oldest person to fly to space 60 years after she was denied the opportunity (nbcnews.com)

Wally Funk never got to fly into space.

Until this morning a little after 8. She and Bezos and his brother Mark and Oliver Daemen, a teenager from The Netherlands rocketed off the desert floor near Van Horn. They zoomed to the edge of space. They were weightless for a few moments. Then they returned.

She trained right along with the Bezos brothers and Daemen. Jeff Bezos joked that just as Wally Funk outperformed her male colleagues in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she did the same while training for the rocket ride aboard the Blue Origin ship named New Shepard.

What’s important to note here is that Funk now is the oldest person to fly to space. She broke a 23-year-old record held by a fellow who flew as part of the Mercury program in 1962 and then took part in 1998 as a crew member aboard the shuttle Discovery. You’ve heard of this guy: the late John Glenn. As an aside, I still get chills when I watch the shuttle blast off with Sen. Glenn aboard and the NASA communicator announces the launch of the ship carrying “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

Well, Wally Funk likely won’t ascend to legendary status.

However, as of this morning this intrepid pioneer is my newest hero.

Well done, Wally Funk.

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 … 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.