One the biggest highlights of my newspaper writing days (1991-2011) came when I got to interview John Glenn, former U.S. Senator and astronaut, for a special section the AV News put out to mark the end of the Space Shuttle program.
I was five-years-old when Apollo 11 launched to put the first men, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on the Moon. But the names I grew up hearing were Alan Shepard and John Glenn. Shepard was the first American to launch aboard a U.S. rocket and Glenn was the first to orbit the Earth after the USSR’s Yuri Gagarin. Unlike the heroes on the silver screen, these were real-life heroes.
So when Mr. Glenn agreed to spend an hour of his time on the phone with me I was ecstatic. We talked about his days with the Mercury project, his finally getting back to space aboard the Space Shuttle over 30 years later and then we turned to the future of the U.S. Space Program.
And that’s when I found out what it is like to be around a legend when he gets good and mad. We were shutting down the Space Shuttle without a replacement mode of transport in place and ready to send U.S. astronauts into space aboard U.S. rockets from a launch pad in the U.S. He was furious with both the Bush and Obama Administrations for this decision to rely on the Russians to haul U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station that would never have been built had it not been for the Shuttles.
It has taken nine years, but this afternoon, from the same pad that sent Apollo 11 on toward its destiny, an American-built rocket, carrying American astronauts will launch from U.S. soil and send these two men to the ISS. I imagine somewhere, John Glenn is saying its about damn time.
As for me, I’ll be watching today’s launch with the same excitement that I had back in 1969. It’s a great moment and one that should be remembered by us all. So godspeed to both astronauts, may their journey be safe and successful and may they return to the same heroes welcome reserved for Shepard, Glenn, Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins.