Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Last Man

John Glenn died December 8 at the age of 95.

On Tuesday, February 20, 1962, I sat with others in a classroom in a Bronx classroom and listened to John Glenn orbiting the Earth (or so my faulty memory tells me). 

This was the first time any American had accomplished that feat.  In those days, when someone was shot into space, everyone stopped what they were doing (as much as possible) and listened to the event on radio or TV.

It was the age of heroes, men and women both.   These rockets, besides taking people into space, were also somewhat prone to blowing up.  But when they didn't, these brave men rode into destiny.  Watch, if you have the time, this six minute video of John Glenn in orbit.

I invite you to read the obituary the New York Times wrote for John Glenn (link in my first paragraph). 

His heroism didn't end with that 1962 first orbit mission.  He returned to space - when he was 77 years old.

Glenn sold his private plane when he was 90.  He and his wife couldn't make it inside anymore.

They are all gone now, the first group of seven men chosen so many years ago to take the United States into space.  Glenn was the last man standing.

What has come of our space program?  I invite you to read this post from August 25, 2012, when the first man on the moon died.

The Last Giant Leap?

 Late on July 20, 1969 I sat transfixed in my living room with my father at my side.  I was in high school so quite old enough to understand what I was seeing.  Together, we watched a grainy pictures on a black and white TV, a picture I never would have believed in m wildest drams growing up.  Such things were not possible.

A man in a bulky suit edged out of a craft, and his voice crackled on the TV.  He stepped on the ground.

"One small step for man.  One giant leap for mankind."
 
That man, Neil Armstrong, died today.

No, I am not talking about Lance Armstrong.  Too many jokes recently about people who confuse the two men.

As far as I know, Neil Armstrong never won a bicycle race.  Come to think of it, Lance has now won several fewer than just a few days ago.  But I digress.

 No. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon.  Today, when we can Skpe friends halfway around the world, when we can email and Facebook instantaneously with people all over Earth - we haven't sent a woman or a man to the moon since the 1970's.

I am sad for so many reasons.  Maybe it is because I realize that many people  really don't understand what happened that day in 1969, or care.  We have lost our will and no longer look to the stars.  We now depend on the Russians, our former enemies, to get us into space.


We have technology now years and years ahead of the technology of the first Star Trek TV series, just as one example.  Many of us own smart phones that Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock would have envied. True, we don't have transporters or starships.

But we don't have much of a space program, either.

In 1969, who would have thought?

Our hero astronauts of the 1960's are aging.  One day they will be dead.

No more giant leaps.  No more small steps.  

Unless?

The people must want the space program to continue.  And right now, they don't.

Times are tough.  We look inward, not outward.  Perhaps that is what happens when times are tough.  But I don't know about that.  We finished the Capital Rotunda in Washington, DC during the American Civil War.  We built the Empire State Building in New York City (so in the news after yesterday's nearby shooting) during the Great Depression.

I truly hope we have not lost our passion for discovering the unknown.  Hard times never stopped us before.

Only time will tell.

Do you remember the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs?  Or is it just history/meaningless history to you?

25 comments:

  1. I saw Glenn in Novemer 1998. I was working in the Wall Street area when Glenn and his fellow Discovery astronauts were honored with a ticker tape parade after their successful shuttle mission.



    There is reason to hope, Alana. When I visited the Kennedy Space Center in October, I learned that NASA is planning big things in 2018. We are going back to the moon, a trip designed as a precursor for a manned Mars mission.

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    1. That is so good to hear, Songbird. But with another administration coming on board in January - who knows what will happen to those plans.

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  2. No path breaking discoveries are coming up these days, or is there? History needs to be looked upon with awe and wonder. Look at what all the human kind have achieved!

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    1. We have achieved so much, yes. Sometimes I wonder, though, if we can continue our progress, or if we will destroy ourselves before we reach the stars. I think we have turned inward - it may be years before we turn outward again.

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  3. I love your post. John Glenn was a true hero!

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    1. He was, and not just for his space exploits.

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  4. Hi Alana,
    Thanks for writing a tribute to Glenn.
    As a child, I often mixed up John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. I am also from New York. I was born in the Bronx.
    Janice

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    1. It's easier for me not to mix hem up because I grew up fascinated by the space program. Happy to meet a fellow Bronxite.

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  5. Those first seven astronauts were heroes of my adolescence, none more than John Glenn. Tom Wolfe's writing about them and the movie made from his book, The Right Stuff were very revealing about the challenges faced by these men and the stoicism with which they faced them. It's tempting to say they don't make them like that any more, but maybe they do and maybe they will be revealed in time. We could sure use some heroes about now.

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    1. We could use heroes, and the coming difficulties our country will experience may just produce them. Let's hope. I hope for that every day.

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  6. And it doesn't look like the space program is coming back any time soon. Unless you count the private companies trying it.

    I was obsessed with the HBO series From the Earth to the Moon. Sadly, that's where most of my knowledge of the space program comes from. Men were on the moon the day I was born. (I know for certain. My father saved the front page of the paper that day, and that was the headline.) Before I turned 2, the moon shots were over.

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    1. My husband and I educated our son (outside of school), showing him videos of TV show devoted to that history. I'm not even sure how much he learned about the program in school.

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  7. Well done tribute to John Glenn. I join you in hoping we have not lost our passion for discovering the unknown. It seems unusually difficult to see how the new administration will approach scientific research.

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    1. I have a feeling the next administration will not pay much attention to space unless one of our enemies does something in space from a military aspect. Their focuses seem to be elsewhere. We will see.

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  8. Sorry I was only two then. But people let say ten years older then me. Share there stories of both this and sputnik.
    Coffee is on

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    1. It was an exciting time, but scary too, because we were competing against the Russians. There was a lot of fear, too. It really was a "space race".

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  9. Nothing much to speak of in terms of manned travel over the last few decades :( And that is so sad... we should be moving forward instead of coming to a grinding halt. And especially with the world the way it is, we need to actually seriously consider it more seriously.

    Godyears.net

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    1. I totally agree with you. I don't know why we stopped, but it could be because we were so focused on competing with the Soviets, and when the USSR went away, so did our motivation.

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  10. I remember exactly where I was sitting in my classroom, even who was sitting in front of me, as I listened to the PA system broadcast the coverage of the first US man into space. I am currently watching the NGO series 'Mars.' I wanted to work for the space agency when I graduated from college in 1968, but they were not hiring. Two years later I married a man who helped design the rocket boosters for the first moon mission in 1969. We used to be a leader nation in many things.

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    1. We used to be a leader in many things. Now we can't even get into space without the help of another space faring nation.

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  11. I also remember where I was at in 1962 -- I was in first grade and the administration had decided to play the radio coverage over the PA system -- as young as I was I somehow knew the significance of what I was hearing -- it was exciting!

    We were transfixed to our TV during the moon expedition -- we've not had anything to work as hard for since it seems.

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  12. What I remember most was that it sparked a huge interest in the STEM fields, because we had all heard that one of the requirements to be an astronaut was a degree in a STEM subject. Boys and girls alike. Now, we're hurting for people with degrees in those areas.

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  13. True that we don't see much of space programs these days.Maybe the initial excitement of discovery has worn off.These days,people are more interested in what concerns their daily lives than what happens in the outer space.

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