It was a relatively pleasant day at Cape Canaveral on Tuesday, February 20, 1962. Temperatures held steady around 20 degrees centigrade, and despite the thin nearshore haze, a 15 kilometer visibility prevailed. The horizon remained free of significant cloud cover, the hue of the sky a cerulean blue tinged with lead. It seemed as if the firmament itself was beckoning yet another daredevil to come up in one of those strange thundering machines that took off from this Florida headland every now and again.
And in those very moments, one of the daredevils was actually getting ready to blast off, not only into the blue vault above, but also into the textbooks of American history. John Glenn was supposed to be the first American to circumnavigate the Earth in orbit. Unlike his two predecessors who executed mere ballistic jumps, he was to experience the orbital alternating of day and night, as well as to spend several hours in a microgravity environment. He waited a long time for this opportunity, having been the backup for both Al Shepard and Gus Grissom, and even now, when space was finally within his reach, fortune was not particularly inclined his way. Originally his launch was planned for mid-January, but constant postponements kept shifting the date more and more to the right. In the end there were so many delays that some had begun to doubt whether Glenn’s nerves were capable of withstanding such an emotional load. As for Glenn himself, tense moments like these and long-term stress were nothing new, of course… Read more