MONDAY, FEBRUARY 20: Along with the arrival of the Beatles, Martin Luther King’s speech in Washington and Woodstock—the flight of John Glenn 50 years ago ranks as one of the top feel-good moments in 1960s American culture. After all, the ‘60s was the height of the Cold War and the Soviets already had beaten “us” into outer space. For the record, John Glenn was the fifth human in space—and the third American to reach that height. But there was something triumphant in Glenn’s triple circle of the planet in just under 5 hours. His flight proved that “we” could win this global contest through what author Tom Wolfe later would call “the Right Stuff.”
In his book about the early space program, Wolfe describes the frenzy of press coverage of the astronauts who were vying for a shot at orbit. Wolfe writes: “John Glenn came out of it as tops among seven very fair-haired boys. He had the hottest record as a pilot, he was the most quotable, the most photogenic, and the lone Marine.”
In a profile of Glenn, today at age 90, the New York Times asked him about Wolfe’s book. The Times reports: “His response was a kind of dismissive aw shucks. ‘Hero’ is an elastic word, after all, stretchable to fit a favorite ballplayer or a great conqueror in war or discovery—almost anyone admirable. “I don’t think of myself that way,” Mr. Glenn said. “I get up each day and have the same problems others have at my age. As far as trying to analyze all the attention I received, I will leave that to others.”
And that sincere modesty also was a part of Glenn’s charm. He marks the anniversary by gathering with other colleagues from the 1960s-era space program. To this day, the Times reports, Glenn continues to maintain an office at Ohio State University, home of the John Glenn School of Public Affairs. Although he is largely retired from public life—including four terms as a U.S. Senator from Ohio—Glenn continues to teach occasionally.
AN APP TO REMEMBER JOHN GLENN & FRIENDSHIP 7
Like most milestones these days—there’s an App to remember the flight of Friendship 7. Visit the iTunes store or the website of the App’s creators, SpaceCraft Apps, to learn more about this $6.99 multi-media App. If you’re a true Glenn fan or a space-science geek, the price is worth it. ReadTheSpirit tested the App, which requires a WiFi connection to work. The best moments are the archival videos of milestones like the initial press conference in April 1959, when the world met the Mercury astronauts. “Which of these men will be the first to orbit the earth? I cannot tell you,” the world was told that spring. Today, of course, we know who finally got the top honor—and his own chapter in American history.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.