NASAJohn Glenn, in his pressure suit,
leaving crew quarters.
NASA's web pages celebrating the 45th anniversary includes an interview with the astronaut-turned-senator, John Glenn, interviews with fellow Mercury astronauts Scott Carpenter and Walter Schirra, and a 360-degree tour of the Friendship 7 capsule, allowing you to zoom in on panel switches and indicators to know just what they say. The presentation allows you to see more capsule details than you would straining to peer inside the capsule in person at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. (But by no means do you want to miss seeing the capsule in the museum's lobby when you visit D.C. You also can see Glenn's Mercury space suit, although make sure you read the label next to the suit to avoid leaving with the impression that John Glenn stood about 4-foot-10.)
Friendship 7 leaves the
launch pad atop an
Listening to the audio of the entire flight is a good way to live through the event, rather than listening to edited versions of the flight. As an example, for a project I worked on 12 years ago commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, I listened to some of the unedited NASA recordings. I remember thinking how slow everything occurred, from the descent of the lunar module to the hours that passed between touchdown ("Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed") and Neil Armstrong actually stepping out onto the surface ("That's one small step...") Whenever the moon landing is shown on television today, you'd think the landing took a couple of minutes and that the astronauts popped the hatch shortly after landing. Listening to the full recording of the 4 hour, 55 minute Friendship 7 flight gives a reminder to the many details that actually occur during a space flight.
If you'd like to hear highlights of the Friendship 7 flight, here are some edited audio files from my collection.
Launch (56 seconds)
Hitting zero G: "Zero-G and I feel fine" (55 secs.)
Firing retro rockets (21 secs.)
Main parachute deploy (40 secs.)
These recorded highlights are fun because you can hear Glenn describing the power of the retro rockets being fired while he was passing over California on his way toward his splashdown target in the Atlantic Ocean. Glenn radios, "Retros are firing. Are they ever. It feels like I'm going back toward Hawaii." You also can hear the excitement in Glenn's voice when he sees his main parachute deploy, which was probably the last major thing that could have gone wrong before splashdown. You hear Glenn's relief when he says "beautiful chute."
NASAPhoto of earth Glenn took during his space flight
You also hear in the recordings why NASA later suggested sending a poet into space in order to describe the experience (and thus gain more public support, and funding). It seems Glenn has one word for all the wonders he sees. Sunrises and sunsets? Beautiful. The site of the secondary engine falling away from his craft? Beautiful. Parachute? Beautiful. NASA was hoping the astronauts could provide more vivid descriptions to bring the experience to life.
If you start reading through some of the NASA links and want to learn more about Mercury, I recommend We Seven, a book from 1962 by the Mercury astronauts themselves, describing the program. I remember reading that book when I was about 11, getting me hooked on the excitement of science and exploration. The Wikipedia entry also is good.