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Photo taken from the aft windows onboard Discovery on mission STS-95, John Glenn’s last space flight.

In life, there are certain occasions which stay in memory forever. The name of John Glenn is one of those which bring back memories of a remarkable moment in our history.

Many of today’s older generation can remember watching television, either at home or in front of a store, in a state of almost total fascination as man conquered one of its last barriers – space.

Bro John Glenn, Senator and AstronautBro John Glenn, Senator and AstronautJohn Glenn was a NASA astronaut. He was part of the first group of astronauts NASA picked. He was the first American to orbit Earth. He also became a US senator. Later, he became the oldest person to fly in space.

Living in the baby boomer generation, Glenn always seemed to be around. In 1957 he set the transcontinental speed record on a flight from Los Angeles to New York, completing the trip in three hours 23 minutes.

In 1959, Glenn took on a new challenge when he was selected for the US Space Program. He and six others, including Gus Grissom and Alan Shepard, went through rigorous training and became known as the ‘Mercury 7’. At the time, the United States was locked in a heated ‘space race’ with the Soviet Union over advancements in space technology and research.

Five years later on 20 February 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth. He named his spacecraft Friendship 7 and made three orbits around Earth. His mission showed that the Mercury spacecraft worked in space. The mission also helped NASA learn more about being in space.

It was an anxious nation that watched and listened that February morning, as the 40-year-old Glenn climbed into Friendship 7, a tiny Mercury capsule atop an Atlas rocket rising from the concrete flats of Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The Cold War had long stoked fears of nuclear destruction, and the Russians seemed to be winning the contest with their unsettling ascent into outer space. Two Russians, Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov, had already orbited Earth the year before, overshadowing the feats of Americans Alan Shepard and Virgil Grissom, who had been launched only to the fringes of space. What, people asked with rising urgency, had happened to the United States’ vaunted technology and can-do spirit?

The answer came at 9:47am Eastern time, when after weeks of delays the rocket achieved lift-off. The three orbits was only a short flight but when Glenn was safely back, flashing the world a triumphant grin, doubts were replaced by a broad, new faith that the United States could indeed hold its own against the Soviet Union in the Cold War and might someday prevail.

John entering his spacecraft, Friendship 7, on 20 February 1962John entering his spacecraft, Friendship 7, on 20 February 1962Friendship 7 was carried by an Atlas LV-3B launch vehicle lifting off from Launch Complex 14 at Cape Canaveral. After four hours and 56 minutes in flight the spacecraft re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, splashed down in the North Atlantic Ocean and was safely taken aboard USS Noa.

But this historic journey was not without some glitches. In the control room, NASA officials grew worried that Glenn’s heat shield was not firmly attached to the spacecraft. Glenn made some adjustments, and managed to make a safe landing.

I found weightlessness to be extremely pleasant.’ was his comment about being in space.

Legend has it that President Kennedy ordered he not be sent up again for fear of losing a national treasure. After retiring from the space program he had a successful business career.

John Glenn was born in Ohio on 18 July 1921 and died on 8 December 2016, aged 95. He was in college when World War II started and left school to fight in the war. He became a Marine pilot and trained other pilots, fought in the Korean War and after Korea he became an airplane test pilot.

In 1974 Glenn entered the political arena, representing Ohio for 24 years in the Senate. Nearing the end of his time in government, he made one more space flight when he flew in the Discovery space shuttle at the age of 77, at that time the oldest person to do so. Two members of the crew had not been born when Glenn made his first flight as an astronaut.

John Glenn was initiated in August 1978 at Chillicothe, Ohio. Two years later the Grand Lodge of New York awarded the Distinguished Achievement to him. He received the 33rd Degree in 1998 in Cincinnati. In 1999 the Supreme Council voted to give him the Gourgas Medal, only the 32nd person to be so honoured.

Article extracted from Freemason magazine, September 2018, pages 6 and 7.

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