"Godspeed John Glenn"
It was February 20th, 1962. Astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. To be an astronaut you had to be a fighter pilot. And Glenn was one of seven picked to be the first men to go into space. They were called the Mercury Seven. The others included Scott Carpenter, Alan Sheppard, Deke Slayton, Wally Shirra, Gus Grissom and Gordon Cooper.
Their story was turned into a book and movie titled The Right Stuff. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards. The movie chronicles every thing from Sheppard’s first trip into space for an American, which lasted 15 minutes, to Cooper’s 22 orbits in 1963. John Glenn says each flight was laying the foundation for a future trip to the moon.
"Al had his flight. Gus built on that. I built and made the first orbital flight, and built on that. Scott, Wally and the others came right after me and so we each did different things and then we moved into the Gemini program where there were two people on board instead of one."
During those early years NASA encountered one disaster after another. Rockets would blow up…equipment would fail. But astronaut Scott Carpenter says that was to be expected.
"You run into difficulty every time you try something you’ve never done before."
While they didn’t expect things to go perfectly — they did expect to succeed. When the Apollo 13 mission ran into trouble years later, Astronaut Jim Lovell made the now famous statement “Houston we have a problem.”
It was Flight Director Gene Kranz at Mission Control who said, "Failure is not an option."
"In our line of work failure is never an option.
Sadly, he’s not sure Americans today could do today what it took back then to put men in space for the first time.
"I try and think about today. America would just not accept that level of risk in anything "
Kranz says the movie Apollo 13 made him a hero in his own family. Before that all they knew was dad works at NASA.
Astronaut Scott Carpenter cherishes family as well. Of the original Mercury Seven, he and John Glenn are the only ones still living. And even though they were American heroes, visited the White House, and were giving big parades everywhere they went. Carpenter who is now 83 says what matters most to him is not what he did in space, but what he did at home…with his family.
"I would like the satisfaction when its all over and said the satisfaction of feeling that I was a good father."