Glenn fever returns 50 years after historic flight

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It took 11 tries for Glenn to get off the pad in 1962. He boarded three times before finally taking off, which he believes created even more of a public frenzy over his flight.

On Saturday, Glenn and Carpenter will reunite with more than 100 retirees who worked on Project Mercury. And on Monday, the actual anniversary, Glenn will be feted at Ohio State University; its school of public affairs bears his name.

Glenn said he’s uncertain how he’ll mark the exact time of liftoff _ 9:47 a.m. _ come Monday. He admitted sometimes forgetting to mark the precise moment in the past. But not for this golden one, “for sure.”

Besides reminiscing Friday, Glenn and Carpenter spoke of the future of space travel. When asked by Cabana “given where we’ve come, where are we going,” Carpenter had a one-word response. “Mars.” The crowd applauded.

Glenn had more to offer, stressing the importance of exploration as well as scientific research. He criticized the previous administration for promoting lunar bases and Mars travel, but providing no funds, and for canceling the space shuttle program. “A big mistake,” he said.

Glenn noted how NASA is relying on the Russians to transport American astronauts to and from the International Space Station, now that the shuttles are retired. That will continue until private U.S. companies have spacecraft ready to fly crews, an estimated five years away.

“What a big change that is from the days when there were the depths of the Cold War … fueling a lot of the interest in the space program,” he said.

Carpenter said he deplores the fact that America seems to have lost its resolve to press ahead in space exploration, as evidenced by NASA’s small share of the federal budget.

“I really miss my citizenship that was once in a can-do nation,” he said.

Another change in five decades: Glenn pointed out how cellphones have “more computing capacity than anything back at the time when we were flying in `62.” Society has become so accustomed to new things, he said, that it will be difficult for NASA to generate the kind of excitement that Project Mercury or Apollo’s moonwalks did.

Repeatedly Friday, Glenn and Carpenter paid tribute to their five deceased Mercury colleagues: Shepard, Grissom, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper and Deke Slayton.

“We need five more chairs here,” Glenn told the NASA crowd.

The two pioneers received standing ovations.

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