Published February 17, 2012
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – John Glenn fever has taken hold of Cape Canaveral once again.
Three days before the 50th anniversary of his historic flight, the first American to orbit the Earth addressed employees at Kennedy Space Center. The NASA auditorium was packed Friday with hundreds of workers, many of whom stood along the walls to see the space legend.
The 90-year-old Glenn was joined on stage by Scott Carpenter, 86, the only other survivor of the original Mercury 7 astronauts.
Glenn recalled how he and his fellow Mercury astronauts traveled to Cape Canaveral to watch a missile blast off. It was a night launch, and the rocket blew apart over their heads.
"That wasn't a very good confidence-builder for our first trip to the cape," Glenn said. Improvements were made, and Glenn said he gained confidence in his Mercury-Atlas rocket, a converted nuclear missile. Otherwise, he said he would not have climbed aboard.
Glenn's Friendship 7 capsule circled Earth three times on Feb. 20, 1962. Carpenter followed aboard Aurora 7 on May 24, 1962.
They were the third and fourth Americans to rocket into space. Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom flew short suborbital missions in 1961, the same year the Soviet Union launched two cosmonauts into orbit on separate shots.
Glenn and his wife, Annie, who turned 92 on Friday, were on hand Thursday evening for the attempted liftoff of the newest of the Atlas rockets. Windy weather forced a scrub of the Navy satellite launch.
Local TV reporters covering the Atlas V launch attempt talked more about Glenn than the countdown. The news media swarmed Kennedy again Friday for NASA's kickoff of a full weekend of anniversary festivities.
During Friday morning's hour-long presentation, Glenn and Carpenter paid tribute to their five deceased colleagues: Shepard, Grissom, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper and Deke Slayton.
"We need five more chairs here," Glenn told the crowd.
The two pioneers received standing ovations.