Monday, December 12, 2016

Space Ranger

This is ground control to Major Tom.
Except that his name was John, and he was a colonel when he retired from active military service. And ground control didn't say that. Fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter said, "Godspeed, John Glenn." Then he blasted off into the heavens. He was the fifth man in space, and the second to orbit the earth. In this way, he wasn't ahead of anyone, but in others he flew right past.
He was one of the original American astronauts. He had the Right Stuff. Whether it was flying above the earth's atmosphere, manually controlling his space capsule during a fiery reentry when automatic systems failed, or the one hundred forty-nine combat missions he flew in World War II and Korea, he proved himself worthy of that title over and over again.
In many ways, he was the face of what became known as the Space Race. As a very little boy growing up in Boulder, Colorado, I was transfixed by the image of Scott Carpenter who had blasted off out of my hometown and into that lineup of Mercury astronauts, but it was hard to diminish the role his fellow pilot played. Kids in Boulder wanted to be Scott Carpenter, but every kid in America wanted to be John Glenn. He was the GI Joe Space Ranger we all dreamed of.
If that were all he had done, it would be plenty. He could have moved on to his executive position with Royal Crown Cola and retired a proud and happy man. He wasn't done. He ran for the Senate, and in 1974, he began a career in Washington that lasted a quarter of a century. As the chief author of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978, the senator from Ohio sought to put a lid on the number of atomic weapons held by nations across the globe and to preserve the planet he had viewed from the tiny window of his Friendship Seven capsule.
In his last year in the Senate, John Glenn returned to space on a shuttle mission as a "geriatric guinea pig" at the age of seventy-seven. When he returned to earth, he received his second ticker-tape parade, an honor extended to a very short list of individuals.
And now he's gone. Somewhere out there in the stratosphere, making that trip around the earth with relative ease. John Glenn did, in fact, stomp on the Terra, but I want to remember him for the hours that he slipped these surly bounds. Godspeed, John Glenn.

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