Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi John Glenn Orbits Earth

By Sue Schuurman

FEBRUARY 23, 1998: 

36 Years Ago This Week

On Feb. 20, 1962, an American successfully orbited the earth for the first time, partially repairing the nation's damaged ego as the U.S. played "catch-up" to the Russians. Now, it seems, he'll be returning to orbit. While it's understandable that during the Cold War we spent billions on the space race to show how the "free world" was superior to the communists, it's less clear why we're going to waste more money sending Glenn back up in his spacesuit. Ostensibly, we need to know the effects of no-gravity on the elderly; making healthcare more affordable would be a wiser investment.

"CAPE CANAVERAL--Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. flashed triumphantly around the earth in America's first orbital flight Tuesday and had scarcely splashed down safely in the Atlantic when the nation erupted in joyous celebration.

"Blazing a three-orbit spaceway round the planet in a 4-hour-56-minute flight, the 40-year-old Marine lieutenant colonel plopped into the sea near a waiting U.S. destroyer. ...

"(President) Kennedy, who anxiously watched the flight over television, summed up America's reaction after all the weeks of waiting when he said: 'Colonel, we are really proud of you and I must say you did a wonderful job.'

"'Thanks, Mr. President,' replied the astronaut, displaying the same composure he displayed throughout his near 18,000-mile-an-hour circuit of the world. ...

"Climbing from the cabin where he had been strapped down since early morning, his first words were: 'It was hot in there.' ...

"Glenn's first comment as his capsule 'Friendship 7' descended toward the gentle and tepid Atlantic was: 'Boy, that was a real fireball.' ...

"Saluting the spacemaster, President Kennedy hailed him as the kind of man of whom the country could be proud. 'We have a long way to go in the space race and we started late,' Kennedy added. 'This is the new ocean and we must sail on it and be in a position second to none.' ...

"This was a restoration--partial, though it may be--of American scientific prestige in the wake of the Russian space flights last year.

"One exception to the wave of felicitation was East Germany. There the Communist-controlled radio said the whole business was just propaganda. ...

"While the Russians were 10 months ahead of the United States in placing a man in orbit, this country could be enormously proud of the scientists who did Tuesday's job. They worked in the full glare of a publicity that everyone knew would damage the United States if the attempt failed."

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