Last week gave us a sad footnote to what has been a very topsy turvy year all told in many respects. The passing at the grand age of 95 of John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth and a true national/global icon in human spaceflight was one that took the space community by surprise and generated a huge outpouring of sadness on social media.
Glenn, who was married for over 73 years in a clearly devoted relationship with Annie, exemplified what was truly great about those chosen to fly in to space in the earliest days of the race against the Soviet Union.
Like many of the astronauts we know, there was no ego with Glenn. He refused to charge for signed items, seeing more as part of his duty to enthuse and encourage others. His flight in the Mercury capsule, itself fraught with danger, after an errant heat shield warning forced mission control to tell Glenn to keep the retro rocket package in place, set America on course and restored much more than national pride, as it paved the way for the future successes of the Gemini and Apollo programs.
Glenn had become too great a national treasure though to risk again, and it seemed like that solitary Mercury flight would be his only traverse in to the unknown. But, three decades + later, Glenn again, on board the vastly more comfortable Space Shuttle, became the ultimate “control” subject when at the age of 77, he became the oldest person ever to go to space on STS95. Truly the Right Stuff was in his genetic makeup.
To have accomplished so much, in such a short duration flight is testament to the incredible pressure NASA were under to deliver at the time. To be regarded so highly by so many was a testament to the man himself.
President Obama ordered flags to be flown at half mast until his burial, a sign again of the high regard and esteem in which he was held.
Will we ever see his like again? Probably not. Since the passing of Al Shepard, Neil Armstrong and now John Glenn, America and indeed the world has lost all of its “firsts” in human exploration of space. But their legacy continues, not only with the fact that so many of the modern astronaut groups all cite these icons as being the reason why they joined the space program, but in the work of Jeff Bezos in the naming of his remarkable spacecraft.
God Speed John Glenn… we thank you, for all you did, not only for your nation, but for the world..