Half a century ago, the Clean Marine of the Mercury space program climbed into his “spam can” perched atop an Atlas rocket and became the first man to fully orbit the Earth. John Glenn was no doubt the darling of NASA in the early 60’s. His squeaky clean image and propensity for public speaking quickly made him the favorite of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. Even though he wasn’t the first American in space – that spot goes to Alan Shepard – his February 20th, 1962 flight garnered more media attention than Shepard’s 15-minute suborbital jaunt into space. He was America’s Sweetheart, for sure.
I grew up with a fascination (read: obsession) with manned spaceflight. It was an obsession that stayed with me throughout my school years, leading to a degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Tennessee (no, I haven’t done a darn thing with that degree. But I have a pretty piece of paper with metallic orange stamping and a few official-looking signatures.. maybe I’ll even get around to framing it one day). I was especially enthralled with the early space programs of the 1960’s and 70’s, back when NASA dreamed big, spent big, and did big exciting things. There was a time when I could name every astronaut in the space program from 1960 – 1973, what mission(s) they flew, and what their position was.
I can’t do that anymore, so don’t ask. You’ll just get a lot of “umm”ing and thumb twiddlin’.
But anyway, back to Mr. Glenn! Aside from his success with his military career, NASA, and more recently, politics, I’ve always had a soft spot for his relationship with his wife, Annie. They have been married almost 69 years and were childhood sweethearts way before that. Annie grew up with a severe stammer that didn’t jive with the media’s portrayal of the Original Seven as members of picture perfect families straight out of a 1950’s sitcom. John protected her fiercely despite desperate attempts by news networks and even LBJ himself to get her to speak on air about her husband’s flight. Career be darned, he was gonna protect his honeybun at all cost, even if it meant pissing off the Vice President of the United States.
Don’t you love it?
I’ll leave you with this great pair of photos. On the left, John and Annie on their wedding day on April 6th, 1943. On the right, John poses in front of his capsule.
“This is a spacecraft, sir. We don’t refer to it as a ‘capsule’.”
Erm, sorry, a little The Right Stuff flashback there.