When I heard last week that John Glenn had died, my first thought was that he was too young. Then I learned he was 95. I guess I thought he was too young because I am too old. How can it be that 54 years have passed since John Glenn risked his life to become the first American to orbit the earth?
Yes, I too was planning to be an astronaut. There weren’t many grade school boys in the early 1960’s who weren’t. I was fascinated by space exploration. Each launch was carried live on television. Since the launches always happened early in Florida, living on the west coast I had to get up way earlier than usual to watch. But I wouldn’t think of sleeping through all that excitement. I would use our big reel-to-reel tape recorder to record the broadcast. I would plug in my set of big, bulky earphones so I could imagine I was part of Mission Control.
I remember freaking out my mom when I wanted sleep with the covers over my head, breathing from a hose, imagining I was flying in a spaceship.
One of the saddest days of my early life was when my heroes, Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee died on the launch pad of Apollo I. At that time, age 11, I was writing my first (and probably only) book. It was 12 chapters and 84 pages, all about Project Gemini.
And one of my enduring Christmas memories has to do with our space program. It was 1968. Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to leave earth orbit and orbit the moon. Their crew, Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders were the first human beings to see the earth from the moon. Their famous picture is attached below.
As we were getting ready to attend the Christmas Eve service at our church, we were gathered around our television set, mesmerized as the three astronauts took turns reading the first 10 verses of the Bible. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . ” And then it was Jim Lovell who added this: “Please be informed, there is a Santa Claus.”
I don’t think I would have been a very good astronaut. I don’t do well with the scarier rides at a carnival. But I certainly was inspired at an early age by brave men like John Glenn. He inspired an entire generation.
As they said from Mission Control on February 20, 1962, “Godspeed John Glenn.”