This past weekend beginning on February 17th NASA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of John Glenn's historic flight aboard Friendship 7 in which he became the first American to orbit the earth in space. Of the original nine Mercury astronauts only John Glenn and Scott Carpenter, also in attendance, were present along with a large number of other project personnel. The article covering the event was written by Marcia Dunn of the Associated Press and can be found here.
These pioneers of the American space program worked from ideas and inspiration. They had to create the tools that made the tools that created the machines that sent men into space. They had no guide, no rule book, no teacher but trial and error. They made tremendous leaps, and sometimes costly mistakes but in no case did they ever stop, cease, or retreat from the goal set for them by President John F. Kennedy.
When the Mercury program accomplished it's goals a new group of astronauts were sought, found, and trained. These men became the pioneers of lunar exploration. The New Nine as they were called led the American people and the world to the moon and back. The New Nine led. The New Nine became world leaders in how things are done in space. Because of the efforts of the Mercury Program the New Nine were given leadership, expertise, and experience in space.
Now, America has retired the ground-breaking reusable vehicle known as the space shuttle. By all reckoning it is what most of us who grew up admiring the Apollo missions would call a true Space Ship akin to science fiction tales of same (though the Apollo capsules and lunar landers were indeed space craft in a very real sense). With the departure of this remarkable American vehicle we have voluntarily slowed our pace allowing the world to catch us in the 'Space Race'. We will and are quickly being overtaken by the Chinese, Japanese (quietly), and Russians.
The most telling, insightful, and challenging quote from the entire AP piece comes at the very end in a quote from Scott Carpenter's address to the crowd…
"Maybe one day before too long the great hero John Glenn himself may be replaced by another national hero who represents the command of a Mars crew returned safely."
"John, thank you for your heroic effort and all of you for your heroic effort," Carpenter told the Mercury old-timers. "But we stand here waiting to be outdone."
We stand here waiting to be outdone….
We have to wonder given the current state of the American space program, out done by who? Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were in the New Nine. Such storied names as these set an amazing precedent to surpass. The question remains not only who will be the New New Nine, but more importantly when will America commit to finding these brave souls?
Cross posted at firstchevalier.com