CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – It has been 50 years since U.S. astronauts first thundered off of the launch pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. In 1962, John Glenn became the first U.S. astronaut to reach orbit. Both Senator Glenn and Scott Carpenter, the two surviving members of the Mercury Program will return to the place where they and their fellow Mercury astronauts – made history.
An event will be held on Saturday Feb. 18 entitled “Celebrating 50 Years of Americans in Orbit.” Guests will be able to watch a presentation provided by United Launch Alliance (ULA) on the Atlas launch vehicle. The Atlas was used on all of the orbital missions of the Mercury program (the first two Mercury flights were suborbital and utilized the Redstone rocket).
Students along Florida’s Space Coast have produced art that, along with artwork produced for NASA, will be on display.
Starting at 6:30 p.m. EDT on Feb. 18, guests will be able to attend “On the Shoulders of Giants” a program featuring Senator Glenn and Carpenter and seek to honor those who made the Mercury Program the success it was. Other presenters include former shuttle astronaut and current Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, Senator Bill Nelson and astronaut Stephen Robinson. Glenn and Carpenter will sign an artifact that will go on permanent display.
Started in 1958, Project Mercury had three primary objectives – place an astronaut in orbit, observe how he handles the microgravity environment and safely recover both spacecraft – and astronaut.
It is a common misconception that Glenn was the first U.S. astronaut in space. Alan B. Shephard holds that title. Shephard spent a total of 15 minutes in space followed by the launch of Virgil “Gus” Grissom. Glenn, in fact, was actually the third astronaut to fly into space.
Glenn roared into orbit aboard his Friendship 7 capsule, completing three orbits before safely splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. He spent a total of 4 hours and 55 minutes on orbit. On May 24, 1962 Carpenter’s Aurora 7 spacecraft roared to orbit leaving two missions remaining in Mercury. These were conducted by Walter “Wally” Schirra and Gordon Cooper.
Entry into the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex costs $43 for adults and $33 for children between the ages of 3 and 11. For the “On the Shoulders of Giants” event bleacher seats will be open to the first 750 guests. Guests are therefore encouraged to bring folding chairs or blankets.