. 24/7 Space News .
Early US astronauts faced uncertainty, danger and death
Miami (AFP) Dec 9, 2016

John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, but for a solid hour of that journey, NASA feared he was about to die in a blazing fireball.

In fact, all of the original crew of astronauts, known as the Mercury 7, risked life and limb in order to explore the frontier of space, and some died in the effort.

The death Thursday at 95 of Glenn, the last of the so-called Original Seven who were chosen as NASA's first astronaut corps in 1959, reminded many Americans just how far the US space program has come in the past five decades.

"Back before any human had actually gone into space the doctors weren't sure they would survive," said space policy expert John Logsdon.

He recalled concerns that powering into space aboard a rocket, then shifting to weightlessness in microgravity, might prove fatal. "It was all new territory."

Monkeys and mice were blasted off on rockets in the 1940s and 50s, and often they died in the process.

Eventually, a chimpanzee named Ham blasted off aboard the new Mercury 7 rocket in 1961 and survived, offering limited reassurance that human astronauts might be OK.

Then, Russia launched Yuri Gagarin, the first man ever in space, in 1961, and his survival took some concern away from the US crew.

But not much.

Rockets teetered on liftoff, exploded over the launch pad and collapsed into smoke and flames with jarring regularity.

"Many of us were skeptical and deeply concerned about NASA's plans to launch the Navy test pilot Alan Shepard on what would be our first space flight," wrote news anchor Walter Cronkite in his 1997 book, "A Reporter's Life."

He recalled watching those explosions, one after another, and described NASA as making a "feeble attempt" to catch up with the Soviets in the space race.

Shepard survived his 1961 trip to become the first American in space -- although not orbit, which was Glenn's feat -- but years later, some of his colleagues were not so lucky.

In 1967, a spark ignited a fire inside the Apollo 1 capsule while it sat on the launchpad, incinerating all three men on board.

One of them was Gus Grissom, who was part of the Original Seven, and who had years earlier become the first man to launch into space twice.

- Not too tall -

The first astronauts were all military test pilots, and much has been written about their unique mental strength and capacity for risk, showcased in the 1970 Tom Wolfe book "The Right Stuff" and the 1983 movie by the same name.

"Test pilots almost by definition push the limits of what their machines can do," said Logsdon. "They were very much used to risking their lives before the space program."

But there was another, lesser known criteria.

"They had to be short," said Logsdon.

None could be taller than five feet 11 inches (1.8 meters), so that they could squeeze into the tiny, cone-shaped capsules that NASA cobbled together back then.

The single-passenger Mercury capsule that Glenn rode in was six feet 10 inches long (two meters) and about the same in width.

"If you go and look at the Mercury capsules now it is amazing that somebody was willing to get into that thing, to sit on top of a small nuclear weapon-equivalent in the energy -- particularly in the Atlas rocket -- and get thrown into an alien environment," Logsdon said.

Years ago, Glenn said he was often asked how he felt in those moments before blasting off.

"I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts -- all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract," Glenn answered.

Glenn's launch in 1962 went smoothly, but as he circled the Earth three times, mission control picked up a signal that suggested his landing bag had deployed prematurely.

Charles Murray, co-author of the book "Apollo: The Race to the Moon" said in a 1989 interview with C-SPAN that "they were really convinced for about an hour that they were going to lose that guy."

The glitch could have meant the heat shield would not work, "and he was going to get burned to a crisp," he added, describing the mood as one of "controlled terror."

After Glenn's successful splashdown, the staff at mission control celebrated by passing out American flags and lighting cigars, as was the habit back then.

On Friday, US President Barack Obama ordered all American flags at public buildings and military outposts to be flown at half-mast on the day of Glenn's funeral as a mark of respect.

Comment on this article using your Disqus, Facebook, Google or Twitter login.

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.
SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only


Related Links
Space Tourism, Space Transport and Space Exploration News

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
American space legend John Glenn dead at 95
Columbus (AFP) Dec 8, 2016
John Glenn, who made history twice as the first American to orbit the Earth and the first senior citizen to venture into space, died Thursday at the age of 95. Glenn became a symbol of strength and the nation's pioneering spirit, drawing admirers from all walks of life over a long career in the military, then NASA, and the US Senate. He was chosen along with six other military pilots as ... read more

Early US astronauts faced uncertainty, danger and death

NASA Tech - it's all around us

NASA Communications Network to Double Space Station Data Rates

NASA's Exo-Brake 'Parachute' to Enable Safe Return for Small Spacecraft

Technical glitch postpones NASA satellite launch

After glitch, NASA satellite launch set for Wednesday

NASA Engineers Test Combustion Chamber to Advance 3-D Printed Rocket Engine Design

ULA launches eighth Wideband Global SATCOM satellite

Mars Rock-Ingredient Stew Seen as Plus for Habitability

ExoMars orbiter images Phobos

Mars One puts back planned colonisation of Red Planet

Opportunity team plot path forward to the 'Gully'

Chinese missile giant seeks 20% of a satellite market

China-made satellites in high demand

Space exploration plans unveiled

China launches 4th data relay satellite

Air New Zealand signs contract for Inmarsat's GX Aviation

UAE launches national space policy

European ministers ready ESA for a United Space in Europe in the era of Space 4.0

Nordic entrepreneurial spirit boosted by space

Japan launches 'space junk' collector

Teaching an old satellite new tricks

Orbital ATK to develop critical technology for in-orbit assembly

Decoding cement's shape promises greener concrete

Who needs a body? Not these larvae, which are basically swimming heads

Scientists examine bacterium found 1,000 feet underground

Rings around young star suggest planet formation in progress

ALMA finds compelling evidence for pair of infant planets around young star

Juno Mission Prepares for December 11 Jupiter Flyby

Research Offers Clues About the Timing of Jupiter's Formation

New Perspective on How Pluto's "Icy Heart" Came to Be

New analysis adds to support for a subsurface ocean on Pluto

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2024 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.