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.