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50 Years Later, Oh, That View Is Still Tremendous

In Local News, National News, Opinion, Politics, Science, State News on February 21, 2012 at 6:36 am

Col. John Glenn on his first orbit aboard Friendship 7 in 1962

By Gery L. Deer

Deer In Headlines


In 1958 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was commissioned to getAmericainto the space race and beat the Russians to the moon. President Kennedy had set a public deadline of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960’s but no one even knew if it could be done. To make it happen, NASA had to invent new technology and learn new skills previously conceived of only in the pages of comic books.

To get things started, NASA established Project Mercury and seven test pilots were chosen from various branches of the armed services to be the first American astronauts. Sitting in tiny capsules atop converted ballistic missiles, these brave men learned how to break the bonds of gravity, achieve orbit, navigate and then return safely back to earth.

On February 20, 1962, Colonel John H. Glenn, Jr., a Marine Corps fighter pilot fromCambridge,Ohio, blasted off fromCape Canaveralto become the first American to orbit the earth. Only the second Mercury flight, Glenn’s Friendship 7 capsule and splashed down safely in the ocean after completing three orbits. The mission lasted only 4 hours, 53 minutes and 23 seconds but it was long enough to allow the United States to catch up to the Soviets.

Glenn’s mission was considered a great success especially considering it happed less than a year after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard flew the firstU.S.space shot aboard his Mercury capsule, Freedom 7. Shepard and Glenn had paved the way for the future of theU.S.space program, and within a few years, Project Mercury had achieved all its objectives.

The next series of missions, Project Gemini, allowed the astronauts to leave the relative safety of the capsule and the new two-person spacecraft that was more maneuverable than the Mercury craft. The Gemini vehicles were also used to develop docking and rendezvous technology, vital to the lunar landings.

By 1967, however, NASA had hit yet another growth spurt. Project Apollo replaced Gemini and, along with a few of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, nine new pilots were selected. Things were moving at a feverish pace and NASA was making good time to fulfill Kennedy’s promise but that achievement did not come without a price.

Each and every mission had multiple objectives ranging from simple tests of new equipment to advanced flight evaluations. Whatever the purpose, procedures were established in order to minimize danger. Ultimately, however, space flight was dangerous and these men were test pilots and sometimes things didn’t go as planned.

In January of 1967, Apollo 1 Command Pilot Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee died in a fire during a ground test of the command module capsule atCape Canaveral. The accident forced several design and safety procedure changes and delayed manned Apollo flights for nearly two years.

When the first manned Apollo mission launched in October of 1968, many in Washington felt the Apollo 1 accident was caused by haste and carelessness and pushed for the program to be shut down before more money and lives were lost. Work continued, however and today Neil Armstrong’s immortal words from the Sea of Tranquilitystill resonate across the generations.

Between 1969 and 1972, there were six successful moon landings. In 1973, NASA launched America’s first space station, “Skylab,” and by 1977, the first space shuttle, Enterprise, was ready for flight control and landing tests. The space shuttles were retired in 2011 after three decades of service.


None of these later accomplishments would have been possible without the bravery and fortitude of those first 7 space pioneers. Ironically, John Glenn was one of the first astronauts to leave the space program (to pursue a career in politics) but he is also the only Mercury astronaut to return to space after retiring.

In 1998, Glenn flew as a payload specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery at the age of 76 – the oldest human ever to fly in space. Here’s to John Glenn on the 50th Anniversary of America’s first orbital flight.


9/11: Oh, the humanity.

In Media, National News, Opinion, Politics on September 5, 2011 at 6:52 am

By Gery L. Deer

Deer In Headlines

I don’t know which is harder to believe; that it has been ten years or that it really did happen. Unprecedented in the history of the United States, the events of September 11, 2001 changed lives around the world.

The savage, heart wrenching images of that morning are forever emblazoned into the collective memories of a generation. A horrible tragedy set against the clear, blue sky of Manhattan. Those of us watching from other parts of the country felt it right along with New Yorkers; the tragedy, the helplessness, the pain, the destruction, the hot, debris-filled wind that would sweep over our nation and rock us to our very core.

The day before the attacks, I had returned to Ohio from a week-long trip in Las Vegas. A co-worker heard on the radio that there had been some kind of bombing in New York City and was frantically trying to find information about it on the Internet. But CNN’s website would not come up, neither would CBS nor NBC. In fact, none of the major news sites were available. Millions of hits at once knocked down the websites before any of us could find out what had happened.

Retrieving a 3-inch color television from my truck, several of my colleagues huddled around my desk trying to get a look at the replay of the first plane flying into one of the World Trade Center towers when the unthinkable happened. A second plane ripped through the remaining tower and it too burst into flames. Shock and silence settled over the motley crew of engineers and technicians gathered around the tiny screen.

Ten years later, we’ve all seen those images over and over again, from virtually every angle. We’ve been deluged time and again with eye-witness interviews and video of the brave emergency response teams trying desperately to save as many lives as they could in the midst of utter chaos and destruction.

Many of the morning television news programs originating from New York had instant coverage of the disaster. Reminiscent of Herbert Morrison’s anguished report from the site of the Hindenburg crash, live broadcast reporters were overwhelmed by pure emotion, moved to tears by the terror they witnessed. Morrison was the radio announcer on the scene in Lakehurst, New Jersey that day in 1937 as the great Zeppelin exploded and crashed to the ground.

Sent by a Chicago radio station to cover the airship’s arrival, the recording of Morrison’s immortal delivery and genuine disgust for the disastrous scene before him became the prototype for how broadcasters would report tragedy and war for decades to come. I wonder, at times, how he might have described the scene that day in New York but I believe his most famous phrase is more than sufficient, “Oh the humanity.”

Actually, even after the hundreds of news stories about the terror attacks, it’s difficult to fathom what else could be said to describe one of the worst days in American history. I can say, though, that I believe the days that followed 9-11 brought about an amazing spirit of survival and determination in our country.

From unmitigated calamity arose an unparalleled sense of unity and patriotism. Americans had spent the last half-century bickering amongst themselves over political and social issues. For the first time since the Second World War, we had a common enemy, even if we were not yet sure who it was. What we did know, however, is that the United States would recover, as a people and a nation; and we did.

On the tenth anniversary of that fateful day, all Americans send thoughts, prayers and best wishes to the families and friends of those who perished in New York, at the Pentagon and in the fields of Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania. Nothing can return their loved ones to them but they will be forever remembered by a nation.

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist based in Jamestown, Ohio. Read more at http://www.deerinheadlines.com