Friendship 7

John Glenn

It was 50 years ago today. The man who would become at 77 the oldest person to ever leave Earth’s atmosphere just a few years after that, was also the first American to fly to space.
The order of the previous sentence is not reversed. For most things in life, it’s good have a perspective, a context, a place and time. Not for this fact, though, and not for John Glenn.
Every time we frame his flight into what was happening them, he and his adventure get somehow short changed. Before even taking off, he was already upstaged by Yuri Gagarin. The Mercury program was not the one that would finally get us to the moon.
And the space age making history then, was really an ongoing arms race in disguise, between two dangerous superpowers.
So let’s drop the academic, and ultimately toothless, exercise of celebrating what was by every other account an act of bravery within the usual emasculating context of patriotism and sense of duty.
Because what John Glenn went after and generously brought back to earth to share with everyone was the certainty that the human spirit could be so vast as to reach and touch the unknown without ever losing its purpose and will.
He proved that earth is big enough for all of us but is no excuse to limit our dreams. He showed that there is a universe above that’s infinite, and lonely and inhospitable to human life. But nevertheless will always welcome our highest aspirations and hopes for a future none of us alive today or tomorrow will ever see.
Why we do it? Why we insist in looking up to the stars and dream, that’s neither up to John Glenn, nor to any of us to answer. Which doesn’t mean that we won’t keep on asking or pushing through or trying to barge uninvited into this invisible ceiling.
We look at our bodies and we know that we’re not fit to fly. We look at the world we built and we’re sure that we’ll be a menace wherever we may go.
But there’s a core within of us that refuses to settle. And that’s what blasted John Glenn out of the atmosphere to fly above us for a few minutes and make us all oh so proud forever.
That’s why the flight of the Mercury capsule can’t be compared to any other flight. And John Glenn will never be second to anyone.
There’s also poignancy in this half-century anniversary, for at this moment there’s no viable U.S. spacecraft that could reenact even the most modest goals the Friendship achieved then.
There may be somebody somewhere preparing one of the retired Shuttles to be displayed in a museum and thinking, what if it could still be taken for a quick ride?
Well, it’d be nice, and we’re sure it’ll happen again, if not with one of the Shuttles, then with something new being built as we speak.
Whatever it’ll be, though, it’ll still owe a lot to the short flight in 1962 when John Glenn found another address to our dreams to live forever. Where? Up where stars have resided long before we came to be, that’s where.
Many people deserve credit for that flight 50 years ago today. We may never know every single person who had a role in helping to make that incredibly dangerous task even possible.
But someone was bound to climb to the cockpit to do it. Somebody had to squeeze himself in that tiny capsule and say, I’m ready. It’d have to be a very special person to make us all cry, coming back or not.
At 40, he went into orbit aboard the Mercury. At 77, he visited the International Space Station on board of the Discovery. Next July, he’ll be 91.
A truly hero? Perhaps. But since he doesn’t think of himself that way, who’s to disagree with him?
We’re just glad that John Glenn was the person who finally did it. He took us all up there and came back, and all these years after, he continues to be such a classy act. Goodspeed, John Glenn.


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