National Geographic : 1962 Jun
chances." So Glenn was advised to re-enter the atmosphere with his empty retrorockets still strapped to the capsule, in the hope that they would hold the heat shield in place. The agony of waiting grew nearly unbear able when radio communications temporarily blacked out-as we knew they would-dur ing the period of intense heating. While we waited, Glenn faced his own moment of truth inside a fireball. This story I did not hear until after the flight, when, as a member of the debriefing team, I joined the astronaut on Grand Turk Island. There I listened to him tell how it felt to be hurtled beyond the earth's horizon where the noon sky is midnight black, where the days are measured in minutes, and where nothing falls without a push-and finally to return in a shooting star. You followed parts of Glenn's flight on TV, and you have read extracts from the astro naut's on-board tape and his pilot's report. Now, after weeks of study, the entire history making event can be pieced together: IT IS only seconds before lift-off. Seventy feet above Launching Pad 14, John Glenn lies strapped in his capsule. In the block house, backup pilot Scott Carpenter has just sent his parting message: "May the good Lord ride all the way!" Now Glenn hears Astronaut Al Shepard in the Mercury Control Center: 3, 2, 1, zero! Glenn feels the engines fire up. The whole bird shakes-not violently, but solidly. Now, two seconds later, the Atlas booster releases its last link with earth. A gentle surge tells him he is under way. 00:00:03* Roger. The clock is operating. We're under way! Glenn reports. Hear [you] loud and clear, Shepard ac knowledges. In the little rear-vision mirror at the bottom of his window, Glenn can see the horizon turning as the Atlas rocket rolls to the right heading. Vibration is building up. 00:00:13 Little bumpy along about here, he reports, but then it smooths out a bit, though the bumpiness never does disappear during powered flight. There is a dull roar from the engines, much like the noise simulated dur ing centrifuge training. Chalk up one, he thinks, for the training-program engineers. 00:00:32 Time now to begin regular re ports to the ground. Fuel 102,101; oxygen 78 [%], 100 [%]; amps 27. Loud and clear. Flight path is good, Shep *00 hours, 00 minutes, 03 seconds after lift-off. Italics indicate quotations from the spacecraft's flight tape. 794 Gleaming like a ruby against the black velvet of night, the 14-story gantry at Pad 14 holds stage center awaiting Glenn's arrival. Titan and Atlas serv ice towers lining Cape Canav eral's ICBM Road add lights to the spectacle. This unusual photograph was taken from the new Saturn gantry. Waving to his co-workers, Glenn strides out of Hangar S where he lived in seclusion for weeks prior to the flight. A van stands by to take him to Pad 14, four miles away.