NASA celebrates 50th anniversary of John Glenn's flight
☥☽✪☾DAW ☽✪☾ 2012/02/19 22:49:45
Now 90, the first American to orbit Earth revisits the launch pad where his trip began. Retired workers and a fellow astronaut from Mercury 7
Cape Canaveral, Fla.—
— Veterans ofNASA'sProject Mercury reunited Saturday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of John Glenn's orbital flight, visiting the old launch pad and meeting the astronaut himself.
The first American to orbit Earth thanked about 125 retired Mercury workers, now in their 70s and 80s, who gathered with their spouses at Kennedy Space Center to swap stories and pose for pictures.
"We might have been the focal point of attention, but you were all the ones making the whole thing possible," Glenn told the crowd.
Glenn and Scott Carpenter, the only other surviving Mercury 7 astronaut, spent nearly an hour being photographed with the retirees, posing in front of a black curtain with a model of a Mercury-Atlas rocket. Glenn is 90; Carpenter is 86.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Mercury brigade traveled by bus to Launch Complex 14. That's the pad from which Glenn rocketed away on Feb. 20, 1962.
Some retirees were in wheelchairs, while others used walkers or canes. Most walked, some more surely than others. But they all beamed with pride as they took pictures of the abandoned pad and of each other, and went into the blockhouse to see the old Mercury photos on display and to reminisce.
As retired engineer Norm Beckel Jr. rode to the pad Saturday, he recalled being seated in the blockhouse beside Carpenter as the astronaut called out to Glenn right before liftoff, "Godspeed John Glenn."
But there's more to the story.
"Before he said that, he said, 'Remember, John, this was built by the low bidder,'" Beckel, 81, told the Associated Press.
The Mercury-Atlas rocket shook the domed bunker-like structure, although no one inside could hear the roar because of the thick walls.
"Nothing was said by anybody until they said, 'He's in orbit,' and then the place erupted," Beckel recalled.
Beckel and Jerry Roberts, 78, a retired engineer who also was in the blockhouse that historic day, said almost all the workers back then were in their 20s and fresh out of college. The managers were in their 30s.
"I don't know if I'd trust a 20-year-old today," Beckel said.
The Mercury team included women, about 20 of whom attended the anniversary festivities.
"We weren't secretaries. We were mathematicians," said Lucy Simon Rakov, 74, a pioneering computer programmer who traveled from Boston for the reunion.
Glenn served in the U.S. Senate for 24 years, representing his home state of Ohio. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 1984. Glenn returned to space in 1998 aboard the shuttle Discovery, becoming the oldest spaceman ever at 77.
Carpenter told the crowd Saturday that he's still waiting for his first shuttle ride, drawing a big laugh.
The weekend has been packed with recollections, Carpenter noted, "but this group of people who made it happen are the best people to be listening to the stories. … We know firsthand what went on.
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