Leaving The Earthly Orb One Final Time

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

As naïve students at Crothersville Elementary School in the early 1960’s, we were in awe, inspired, and filled with pride at the fledgling space program which sent humans into the black void of the cosmos.
It was a time when new words came to be a part of our vocabulary. On the playground we were impressing one another about our knowledge of the Mercury Seven, Redstone rockets, launch pad, space capsule, boost and thrust, yaw & pitch, re-entry, splashdown.
One of those early space pioneers died last week. John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth on Feb. 20, 1962. He was 95 when he passed.
Glenn was the real Capt. Kirk before Star Trek hit the TV airwaves.
Even though I was not yet 10 years old then, we all knew of the initial Mercury 7 astronauts. Alan Shepard was the first American in space. Nearby Mitchell, Indiana native Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom was the second man in space and that gave we Hoosiers a little more pride and interest in space exploration.
All of the seven Mercury astronauts were test pilots because engineers didn’t really know how the Redstone rockets would perform. There had been some explosions on the launch pad and disintegrations shortly after launch. Both Shepard and Grissom went up r-e-a-l high, made an arc, came down, and safely landed in the ocean.
But it was John Glenn who first orbited the earth in space.
I remember on those historic early rocket launches, a black & white TV was brought into the classroom so we could watch, witness history, and maybe learn.
A couple of years after his historic space orbit, Glenn retired from NASA. In 1974 he was elected to the U.S. Senate from neighboring Ohio. He served in the senate through January 1999.
While a sitting Senator, on Oct. 29, 1998, at age 77, he became the oldest man to fly in space, this time on the Space Shuttle Discovery. His mission on the flight was a medical one to be studied to see what effect space flight had on the aged.
I got to shake John Glenn’s hand in 1983 when he visited the Indiana Democratic Editorial Association’s convention in French Lick. He was seeking the Democratic nomination for President. His candidacy did not take off like the rockets he piloted. Walter Mondale was the Dems nominee who got clobbered by Ronald Reagan in the election of 1984.
Glenn and the six other early astronauts were portrayed in the movie “The Right Stuff”. If you don’t have that in your DVD collection, borrow it from the library. It is a fitting reflection and memoriam of the courageous space pioneer.
He rocketed into that history setting first obit in 1962 and as the rocket cleared with launch tower, he was wished “God’s speed, John Glenn.” It’s a fitting final salute today.