February 20, 2012

Fifty years ago today, eyes and ears were glued to this guy.

Fifty years ago today, just about every kid in every school around the country was herded into an auditorium, or had a TV or radio carted into their classroom and sat, glued to the spectacle going on in front of them for the better part of that day. Nothing else went on, it wasn't business as usual. We were busy witnessing something.

I'd like to say it seemed like yesterday but no, it really does seem like fifty years ago. John Glenn and his apt named space capsule Friendship 7 were doing something we only imagined before this day and it was borne out of that curiosity that was so prevalent in the Post-World War 2 era and The New Frontier of the Kennedy Years. Part of it was a result of the Cold War and our desire to be Number One in All Things Adventuresome. But most of it really was doing something that just hadn't been done before. Those of us who had our heads buried in the latest Science Fiction book or TV show or magazine article just thought it was the next logical step in Art versus Reality.

We were primed for this for a while. Ever since Alan Shepherd the year before, we knew it was only a matter of time. But there was also that thing in the back of our heads that asked "what if it goes wrong? What it if explodes? What if he's stuck up there?". We didn't really know what to expect.

But enough time has passed and enough discoveries have been made so we can now look at this particular day, unfolding long before most readers were born and shrug "not that big a deal". Hindsight is a lot more confident than the reality of the moment. And at that moment in 1962 the uncertainty prompted an otherwise staid announcer to yell "Go Baby, Go!", triggering an excited squeal from my elementary school auditorium and an admonishment from the school Principal that the TV would be turned off if we didn't calm down.

And that's how history presented itself on this day in 1962. The uncertainty of the future and the excitement of the possibilities. Even a Fifth Grader knew that.

Here is an excerpt of that day recapped via an NBC Radio Special report for February 20, 1962.

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