I have to admit that I don’t know as much about John Glenn as many others, but I do have memories of his orbital flight on February 20, 1962, and I am pretty sure much of who I am today is because of that flight and my own personal circumstances surrounding it. On that date, I was five years old, but not in school yet. Being born in December, I was too far past the cutoff date to start school until the fall of that year. I was pretty much a kid like any other kid, but I had a dad that was fascinated by the space program and he encouraged me to also have that same enthusiasm for it. I had books on space and spaceflight that are ludicrous by what we know now. The books I had told that would have a city on the moon and be freely exploring the solar system with colonies possibly on other worlds. If only.
I know the date and time of the launch only because I looked it up. Friendship 7 launched at 14:47 UTC (Zulu in those days). Where I lived in San Francisco, that would have made it 6:47 am. My dad worked nights at Hills Brothers Coffee Company and got home quite early in the morning. I awoke to find dad sitting on the edge of the bed (I remember this clearly) telling me that it was time to see the “blast off.”
Dad and I sat in front of the television, a black and white Admiral, and watched and listened as Walter Cronkite talked to people about the historic and scientific aspects of the flight and listened in as Jack King made announcements about the countdown and conditions of the vehicle and the pilot. I don’t remember how long it was before the launch happened, but I would imagine as a five year old, I was pretty impatient.
Finally the launch happened and we continued to watch. I remember the shaky camera work as the Atlas got farther away and how they had trouble keeping it centered in the picture. But that’s about all.
Looking back, I can say that it was a beginning for me. I never missed a launch after that, either because dad would get me out of bed (it seemed like all of the launches were in the early morning hours) or later, I would make a point of seeing them all the way through Apollo 17. But Glenn’s orbital flight was the first and a starting point for me to appreciate science eventually to embrace science fiction, space opera in particular, as a way of going to the stars myself.
Mostly, right now as I think about John Glenn, I am missing watching launches in the early morning hours with my dad.
Well, there it is…