Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Godspeed, John Glenn!

Fifty years ago today, astronaut John Glenn launched in a spacecraft called Friendship 7 and became the first American to orbit the Earth. Here's a wonderful documentary, assembled by NASA after the mission's end, detailing the events of Glenn's mission, from pre-launch preparations to Glenn's post-splashdown arrival on the aircraft carrier.

I watched this film way back in third grade, when our class was doing a research project on space; I remember Mrs. Grosbeck, our teacher, looking with some dismay at the two giant film reels for this movie and realizing that we'd have to watch it in two installments. (That's something I recall from watching educational movies in school: seeing the teacher pick up the film reel, and noting its size which would therefore indicate its length. Big film reels, meaning longer films, made us happy. If it was a small one, someone in class would say something like, "Awww, a short one." Good times!) I've looked for this film on YouTube and in other places a few times over the years, and I'm thrilled that it's finally available. I could watch archival NASA footage for hours. It reminds me that there was a time when you could read about NASA and not see the phrase "budget cuts" in the next sentence.

I love the style of this film -- listen to the portentous narration, loaded with patriotic fervor and the clear belief that space exploration is obviously what's next. "Today, John Glenn and the Mercury team challenged space...and they won!" And while all this goes on, a stirring music score throbs away in the background. A documentary like this would be dismissed today as slavish propaganda, and I suppose, in a way, that it is...but you know what, I just don't care. Our space program in the 1960s, even though we might wish it was less motivated by a desire to beat the Soviets, was a time of greatness that we achieved because we just plain wanted it. And it saddens me to think that our era of space exploration was so short that a landmark mission, fifty years ago, now seems almost quaint.

Come on, America! Why are we messing around? The stars are awaiting us!

Read a good account of Glenn's mission here (the photo above comes from there as well). What a thrilling time that must have been. I sometimes wonder if maybe the spaceflight 'glow' would have lasted longer if what is certainly its 'Golden Age' to this point didn't coincide with Viet Nam...but that's a hypothesis for another day.

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