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Bob Schepp, 77, who like Mr. Beckel traveled from St. Louis, Mo., for the reunion, was reminded by the old launch equipment of how rudimentary everything was back then.

“I wonder how we ever managed to launch anything in space with that kind of stuff,” Mr. Schepp said. “Everything is so digital now. But we were pioneers, and we made it all work.”

The Mercury team included women, about 20 of whom gathered for the anniversary festivities. One pulled aside an AP reporter to make sure she knew women were part of the team.

“Most of the women here are wives,” said Lucy Simon Rakov, 74, but not her.

“We weren’t secretaries. We were mathematicians,” said Ms. Rakov, a pioneering computer programmer who traveled from Boston for the reunion.

Patricia Palombo, 74, also a computer programmer, said working on Project Mercury proved to be the most significant thing she’s done in her career.

Mr. Glenn‘s flight was the turning point that put America on a winning path that ultimately led to the moon.

“It’s been downhill from here,” Ms. Palombo said with a laugh. She lives near Washington.

Mr. Roberts praised the wives who endured the hardships back then. He recalled how he and his colleagues worked 16- and 18-hour days, seven days a week, especially after the Soviet Union grabbed the prize of first spaceman with Yuri Gagarin in 1961. Gagarin reached orbit on his mission; another Soviet cosmonaut also rocketed into orbit before Mr. Glenn‘s voyage.

Many marriages ended in divorce because of the excessive workload, Mr. Roberts noted. Turning to his wife, Sandra, he said proudly, “This gal’s been with me for 57 years.”

“Not that many,” she told him. “We’re going to be 55.”

“Fifty-five. That’s right, that’s right,” Mr. Roberts muttered.

“Golly, gosh, when you get old, you forget about numbers,” Mr. Schepp piped up.

NASA’s celebration of Mr. Glenn‘s three-orbit, five-hour flight aboard the Friendship 7 capsule began Friday at Cape Canaveral. The festivities move to Columbus, Ohio, on Monday, the actual anniversary. Mr. Glenn will be honored at a gala at Ohio State University; its school of public affairs bears his name.

His wife of 68 years, Annie, who turned 92 Friday, and their two children are accompanying him to all the festivities.

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