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America Remembers John Glenn's Historic Flight

This story was first published on Feb. 21, 2012, after the 50th anniversary of John Glenn's flight.

The black-and-white TV set was on early in our suburban St. Louis home the morning John Glenn shot around the world in 1962. 

"That whole day is very vividly impressed on my memory because it was such a new experience. We hadn't done that before," Glenn recalled on the flight's 50th anniversary.

Grandma was making her specialty tea biscuits as the countdown clock wound down on the grainy screen. She said America's dreams were riding on Mr.Glenn's success.

Even at age 12, I sensed something was up. I had just begun to listen to Bob Dylan records. You know, those early tunes where he asks so many questions with no answers.

The space race was scary. Grandma said that was John Glenn's mission, to draw even with the Soviets in the race to outer space.

"That first flight you know, there wasn't a whole lot of the type of thing that we call research now," Glenn remembers.

"Don't Go"

"We were trying to find out what would happen to the human body and could you function or not function," Glenn says. "And things like, would your eyes change shape when you were up there for several hours in zero G. You might even not be able to look at the instrument panel and make an emergency re-entry. And would the fluid in your inner ear move more randomly."

Because of the success of Glenn's ride, the early failures are diminished in the history books. U.S. Booster rockets kept blowing up on the launch pad prior to the launch of Friendship 7.

"Senator Glenn," a reporter asked, "you talked a lot this morning about the training the astronauts received. Did you get any advice before going up on Friendship from Mrs. Glenn?"

"Don't go," Glenn replied.

But Glenn says the domestic differences were resolved before take-off.

"(My wife) suggested we ought to take the second 'A' out of astronauts. Astronuts, I'll give it to you anyway," Glenn said. "But by the time we got around, she was all for it."

Sign Of Pride

Glenn says both the astronauts and NASA viewed his flight as a turning point in the competition with Soviets. He says it changed the American psyche. America did land a man on the moon seven years later. Now, Glenn says America pays Russia to take its astronauts to the international space station. He wants to inspire a new generation.

"So I just hope this attention on the past can used as a stepping stone to the future and encourage the kids of today," Glenn said. "That's what's important."

But for a young kid in the early 60s, Glenn's accomplishment are easily brought forth.

All I had to do was cue up Walter Brennan's tribute on an old 45 RPM.