Feb. 20, 1962, John Glenn became an iconic explorer. Breaking the trail into space and advancing technology on earth. He died today.
Millions of people invented materials, electronics, fuels, and a myriad of binary codes to make Glenn’s three trips around the earth possible. Five hours on Feb. 20, 1962 was a culmination of all of the technological aspirations of humankind. The Friendship 7 Mission succeeded, and America showed its strength in invention and vision. He followed and surpassed Yuri A. Gagarin and Gherman S. Titov, Alan B. Shepard and Virgil I. Grissom.
Behind good men, there are always good women. NASA’s “Computers in Skirts” were mathematics and physics geniuses who calculated the trajectories for space missions and designed software to make the mission go. Katherine Johnson, a 2016 Medal of Freedom recipient, along with her colleagues Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, served as the brains behind John Glenn orbit and his safe return. Margaret H. Hamilton led the team that created the on-board flight software for NASA’s Apollo command modules and lunar modules.
The contributions of icon John Glenn were watched around the world in 1962 are incalculable. The quiet support of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson and Margaret Hamilton are also ticker tape worthy. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs stand on their shoulders. Mark Zuckerberg and the billions of FB’ers owe them all thanks.
The humanity, mastery and heroism of John Glenn are clear when we read his words:
“Zero G and I feel fine.”
“As I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind — every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder.”
“To sit back and let fate play its hand out and never influence it is not the way man was meant to operate.”
“I don’t know what you could say about a day in which you have seen four beautiful sunsets.
“If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet, it’s that the happiest and most fulfilled people I’ve known are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound than merely their own self-interest.”
The words a leader uses, seals his reputation for the ages. Words make worlds, and as communication technology develops, words spread faster, and accuracy and clarity matter.
FDR’s radio fireside chats are eternal. His words bring people together.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
TV amplified John Kennedy’s words as he encouraged America to aim for the stars.
And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.
Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.
Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.
Obama, a master public speaker, moved enormous crowds. He used the Whitehouse Webcam, Facebook, and Social Media to communicate.
“Yes we can.”
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
And now 140 characters is the cutting edge in Presidential communication. It has not been inspirational. How can Americans come together in a universe of divided news, smart phones, feeds, and fake news? We hear only what conforms to our world view.
Who inspires us now and says the words that are worthy of the ages? Where are Atticus Finch and Churchill? Or do we live in the cynical age of the celebrity and the Heisenberg multi-dimensional villain?
But then, I am reminded “never, never, never give up.” Glenn failed many times, but he never quit. In 1964, Glenn entered the Ohio Democratic primary running against incumbent Senator Stephen Young, however, an accident forced Glenn to leave the race. In 1970 he ran for Senate again and lost. On the third try in 1974, he won his Senate race. It took a decade of failing and trying. He tried to become President of the United States, and he failed. But he became the oldest human to venture into space. He never quit.
There is a lesson for all of us in Glenn’s well-lived life. It takes time, tries, and failures to make vision into reality. And it takes the support of others. It takes words that inspire and bring people together in common goals.
We never will succeed in any mission alone. We must have a common vision and the courage to set aside differences so that we can work to a greater end – – for many other than ourselves. And we need the words that inspire and are worth remembering.