[nfbmi-talk] Heros

Fred Wurtzel f.wurtzel at att.net
Tue Feb 14 20:43:16 CST 2012



I'm not sure how many of our Michigan people are aware that last week Mark
Riccobono flew in the NASA airplane that simulates weightlessness.  Mark
experienced various levels of weightlessness during his time in the air.
Taking this flight is training for people who may someday go into space.  As
you all do know, Mark drove our Blind Driver Challenge car last year in
Daytona.  As the article Below says hero is an elastic term, but to me, mark
sure sets a high bar for all of us and shows bravery and determination as he
helps all of us achieve first-class citizenship.  Someone has said that the
first blind astronaut has been born.  Not sure who it is, yet, but Mark is
paving that person's way.  Enjoy the article below and remember any of us
can be a hero at any moment.


Warmest Regards,




Science and Health News of the Times, the BBC, and the Washington Post

_next article

Times Science and Health news for the week of Tuesday 2/14/2012

50 Years Later, Celebrating John Glenn's Feat


In the winter of 1962, the nation needed a hero.

Americans had yet to recover from the Soviet Union's launching of the

first spacecraft, Sputnik, in October 1957 -- a rude jolt to our

confidence as world leaders in all things technological. The space race

was on.

Soon after he took office in 1961, President John F. Kennedy had thrown

down the challenge to send men to the Moon by the end of the decade.

But the Russians still set the pace, boastfully. They launched a dog

into orbit, then the first man, Yuri A. Gagarin, and another, Gherman

S. Titov.

The United States lagged, managing only two 15-minute [8]suborbital

astronaut flights -- only five minutes of weightlessness each time.

Then, on Feb. 20, 1962 -- 50 years ago next Monday -- a Marine Corps

fighter pilot from small-town America stepped forward in response to

the country's need. The astronaut was [9]John Glenn, whom the author

Tom Wolfe has called "the last true national hero America has ever


Squeezed into the cockpit of a [10]Mercury spacecraft called Friendship

7, launched by an Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., Mr. Glenn

circled the [11]Earth three times, becoming the first American to orbit

the planet. Perhaps no other spaceflight -- all 4 hours, 55 minutes and

23 seconds of it -- has been followed by so many with such paralyzing


Mr. Glenn saw three sunsets and sunrises that Tuesday, from a maximum

altitude of 162 miles. At each sunrise, an explosion of what looked

like fireflies appeared outside the window, mystifying him. Then came a

signal of a suspected problem that had ground controllers bracing for

an uncertain, possibly catastrophic re-entry into the atmosphere.

The ending was a happy one. A collective sigh of relief was heard

across the land. The president rushed off to Cape Canaveral to hail the

returning hero. Bands played. Ticker tape streamed from the high

windows of Broadway. People cried. Never mind that a Soviet cosmonaut

had already spent 25 hours in orbit. As Mr. Wolfe has written, "John

Glenn made us whole again!"

Now, at 90, Mr. Glenn was reminded in one of two lengthy interviews

that the author of "The Right Stuff" had judged him the country's last

true hero. His response was a kind of dismissive aw shucks. "Hero" is

an elastic word, after all, stretchable to fit a favorite ballplayer or

a great conqueror in war or discovery -- almost anyone admirable.

"I don't think of myself that way," Mr. Glenn said. "I get up each day

and have the same problems others have at my age. As far as trying to

analyze all the attention I received, I will leave that to others."

(For his part, Mr. Wolfe stood by his characterization, saying a

national hero was someone seen as "a great protector" of the people.

"He really wasn't their protector, but that's what people felt and

thought," he said of Mr. Glenn in an interview last week. "He made them

cry, and this made him a hero.")

On Saturday, Mr. Glenn will again get a[12] hero's welcome at Cape

Canaveral for a reunion with the dwindling Mercury space team, those

remaining managers, engineers and technicians who sent the first

Americans into space. On Monday and Tuesday, he will be honored with a

dinner and a spaceflight forum at Ohio State University, home of the

John Glenn School of Public Affairs.

Mr. Glenn keeps an office at the school, holds seminars with students

and is close to the archive of papers from his careers as an astronaut

and, later, a four-term United States senator from Ohio and a candidate

in the 1984 Democratic presidential primaries. It is quite an archive:

about 1,800 boxes of materials. "I was a pack rat," he said.

He and his wife, Anna (he calls her Annie), divide their time between a

house in a suburb of Washington and a condominium in Columbus. She was

his childhood sweetheart, and their marriage has stood the test of

almost 69 years of devotion in the turbulence of spaceflight and

politics. From the time they came to public attention, each has seemed

the other's center of gravity.

Through years of therapy, Mr. Glenn said, Annie has overcome the severe

stammer that had made her ill at ease at public appearances. "She can

give speeches now," he said, and she likes talking to students of

speech pathology. Both have had knee-replacement surgery.

Their knees had made it hard for them, especially Annie, to climb on

the wing and into the cabin of their twin-engine Beechcraft Baron. They

used to fly it on vacations and back and forth to Washington, sometimes

logging as many as 160 airborne hours a year. Last month, as a

concession to their aging knees, the Glenns sold their airplane, but

Mr. Glenn was pleased to say he still has a valid pilot's license.

The other honored guest at the anniversary events in Cape Canaveral

will be M. Scott Carpenter, the Mercury astronaut who was Mr. Glenn's

backup and radio link, called capcom, in the launching blockhouse that

day of flight. The two are the only surviving members of what were

known as the Mercury Seven. [13]Virgil I. Grissom died in 1967 in an

Apollo spacecraft fire during a launching-pad test. [14]Donald K.

Slayton died of cancer in 1993. [15]Alan B. Shepard Jr. died of

leukemia in 1998. [16]L. Gordon Cooper Jr. died of natural causes in

2004. [17]Walter M. Schirra Jr. died of a heart attack in 2007.

In 1998, his last year in the Senate, the first American to orbit Earth

became, at 77, the oldest person to travel in space. Mr. Glenn felt he

still had enough of the right stuff. He had continued to pilot his own

airplane and had kept in shape -- "attitude and exercise," he said,

"that's what keeps you going" -- and he persuaded [18]NASA to let him

fly on the [19]space shuttle Discovery and conduct tests on the

physiological effects of nine days of weightlessness on older people.

In the recent interviews, Mr. Glenn said, "I am not at all happy with

some of the directions the space program is going, in particular

retiring the space shuttles before we have a new heavy-lift launching

system in place."

Mr. Glenn said he was concerned that since the final shuttle flight

last July, the United States must depend on the Russian [20]Soyuz space

vehicles for ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space

Station, assembled in orbit at a cost well over $100 billion, mainly

from American taxpayers. The Soyuz is limited to three passengers and

about 125 pounds of gear, hardly sufficient for hauling replacement

parts for the space station.

"If the Russians had a hiccup with Soyuz, our manned space program

would be ended, maybe for years," Mr. Glenn said.

In a meeting with President Obama two years ago, Mr. Glenn made his

case for continuing shuttle flights and full space station operations

for several more years, contrary to President George W. Bush's policy

that a new generation of boosters and spacecraft would be developed

with the savings from the cancellation of shuttle operations. "The

president didn't disagree with any of my arguments," he recalled. "He

said we just don't have the money."

As Mr. Glenn settled into recollections of that February day in 1962,

the interview glided into easy conversation over shared memories. Ten

times over almost a month the launching was scheduled, only to be

scrubbed because of poor weather or mechanical glitches. "On again, off

again," Mr. Glenn said. "I actually suited up four times, and two times

was up on top of the Atlas, strapped into Friendship 7, ready to go."

Reporters from all over the world grew restive, desperate for anything

to write about. After one cancellation, Mercury information officers

begged Mr. Glenn to give them something to tell the journalists. When

he got off the booster, he went running on the beach and happened to

see where sea turtles had buried their eggs. This was duly reported,

and one writer remarked that it was understood the astronaut had a good

recipe for turtle egg soup.

"Well, that got me into a whole lot of trouble with environmentalists,"

Mr. Glenn recalled. "I got mail calling me everything but a good guy,

and should be replaced."

The waiting got so tiresome for the press corps that when a waitress at

one of the watering holes was shot dead by her boyfriend around

midnight, some reporters rushed to file the story. A London tabloid

declared it "the first successful shot here in weeks."

Mr. Glenn said he had not heard that tale before.

At last, on the 11th attempt, with his backup, Mr. Carpenter, bidding

"Godspeed, John Glenn," Friendship 7 lifted off for its three orbits of

Earth. Christopher C. Kraft Jr., the flight director, remembers,

"Nothing about John Glenn's flight was easy."

At first sunrise, Mr. Glenn saw a swarm of greenish-yellow lights

outside the craft, reminding him of fireflies. He saw them again at the

other sunrises. "No one had anticipated this, and it was fascinating,"

he said. "Turns out these were tiny moisture particles vented from the

heat-exchange system, but I don't know if we have ever explained their

particular colors."

Near the end of the first orbit, trouble with the automatic control

system forced Mr. Glenn to take manual control for much of the

remaining orbits. He felt he was truly the pilot, not a passenger on

autopilot. Not "Spam in a can," in the minds of the veteran test pilots

unimpressed by these new astronauts.

Then a signal sent to the ground warned of a potentially more serious

problem. It indicated that the craft had a loose heat shield. Flight

controllers suspected it was a spurious signal, but could not be sure.

They decided not to jettison the retro rockets after they braked the

capsule for its descent. The retro-pack should keep the heat shield in

place and prevent serious damage to the capsule.

"Glancing out the window during re-entry," Mr. Glenn recalled, "I was

seeing big chunks of something coming off. It was the retro-pack, not

the heat shield, thank goodness. It had been a false alarm. If you go

to the Air and Space Museum in Washington, you can see the burn

patterns on Friendship 7."

In the epilogue to "The Right Stuff," his best seller on the original

seven astronauts, Mr. Wolfe wrote that the day of Glenn the hero "when

an astronaut could parade up Broadway while traffic policemen wept in

the intersections," was no more. An era, he continues, "had come, and

it had gone, perhaps never to be relived."

But in a time short of heroes, John Glenn keeps alive the memory..

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