God Speed John Glenn (1921-2016)
The first astronauts of the early 60s were the last of the old fashioned All American heroes. Old fashioned in that they were WASP to the tips of their crew cuts, as were their wives ,children, pet dogs, breakfast cereal and contracts with Life magazine.
Of the original seven John Glenn was the stand out. An ace from the Second World and Korean Wars, a Marine,he had won 5 DFCs and held all kinds of speed records. A great smile, freckles ,the lot. Sure he was at 37 the oldest but he did more physical exercise than the others. For the press he was the one to lead charge against the all conquering Red Menace in space.
For those seven first astronauts, test pilots all, the competition was to be the first. These were best of the best top guns,they posed as a team but they competed,oh boy and how. In the end they decided who was going to be the first. And it wasn’t John Glenn.It was Christian Scientist Alan Shepherd who did that first up into space and straight back.
And the reason? The seven had voted, and Glenn came in at number three. They were all at least nominally church goers but Glenn was a Sunday School teacher. It was Glenn who raised the family bar, his wife and children were behind him 100 per cent.
But these were fly boys, flying and driving, drinking and driving. As America’s kamikazes in space, all over the media, there were girls, parties and more girls. But John Glenn read them the riot act, the pants had to stay zipped, the parties had to stop. He was a Presbyterian who would have done Ian Paisley proud. The other six looked at each other. Glenn didn’t even have a proper car. Others had Corvettes and Triumphs they knew what it was to have the right stuff on the ground. Glenn had an ancient Peugeot,”the most underpowered automobile registered to any fighter pilot in America.”
Glenn might pray more, run with weights strapped to his legs,may be more of a family man, the press may find him the most articulate but when the others had a choice it wasn’t Glenn. But God was on his side. He didn’t go in the first two up and down missions, he went third and spent hours going round the earth three times. From then on it was Glenn and his happy family in their beat up family car, going twice on Sundays which beat the Ruskies.
That was in 1962. Kennedy was still alive but Dylan had already sung Times they are a’Changing and US ascendency was about to start to drain away in the swamps of Vietnam.
Most of this gleaned from Tom Wolfe’s “Right Stuff”,one of my favourite all time books.
See Glenn’s triumph-