Highways Into Space: A first-hand account of the beginnings of the human space program

Highways Into Space: A first-hand account of the beginnings of the human space program by Glynn S. Lunney

Book: Highways Into Space: A first-hand account of the beginnings of the human space program by Glynn S. Lunney Read Free Book Online
Authors: Glynn S. Lunney
Tags: General Non-Fiction
President.
     
    May 25, 1961 – What a speech – What a challenge. To go to the moon and to land there within the decade. My personal reaction was like many others of our brotherhood. Without knowing how such a thing could be done, it sounded way beyond any capability we would be able to achieve. Even today, I wonder if the President and his advisors really grasped the scale and difficulty of this endeavor. It sounded impossible. This may be how the big breakthroughs of history really happen. What a privilege to be part of it. And so we went back to work. The reaction of our fellow citizens to Al’s flight was an incredible morale booster in itself. And then this unbelievable and unexpected demonstration of confidence dominated our lives for the next ten years and beyond.
     
    MA-6 minus 7 months
    July 21, 1961 – MR-4, piloted by Gus Grissom, roared off the pad to duplicate the performance of MR-3. And it did. But another unexpected event almost caused the drowning and death of Gus and did cause the loss of the spacecraft. Something caused the backup explosive system to fire and blow the hatch allowing seawater to flood into the ship. The proximity of, and the skill of, the helicopter crew saved Gus because his suit was not completely closed and was also filling with water. I never heard an official closeout of this problem – as to whether it fired as a result of an equipment failure or, as some suspected, that the crewman inadvertently hit the trigger. Either way, it hung over Gus’ head for a while.
     
    August 6, 1961 – Again, a reminder of our position in the space race was emphasized by the seventeen revolutions of the earth by Cosmonaut Gherman Titov.
     
    MA-6 minus 5 months
    September 13, 1961 – The campaign to test the Mercury and Atlas vehicle moved into high gear with the preparations for MA-4. It was an unmanned spacecraft planned for a one revolution orbital flight. This was the first time for the spacecraft to perform in orbit and the first time that the Atlas would be used to lift the spacecraft to its intended orbit. And the first time that I had the opportunity to see the Atlas cutoff conditions in velocity and the flight path angle of the velocity vector. The solution was a little noisy but still clearly a “GO” for orbit. It felt a little strange to see the actual orbital conditions on the plot board, rather than on a piece of paper, after so many discussions and speculation as to how good the processed data would be. It was a real pleasure to report to John Hodge, the Bermuda Flight Director, “Flight/FIDO, we have a ‘GO’ orbit.” This was a continuum from the work that John Mayer did to reduce the actual radar tracking to confirm that the X-1 flight of Chuck Yeager at Muroc (Edwards) actually broke the sound barrier (one day after the fact) to one of his protégés confirming that the first Mercury spacecraft was really in orbit (and within a few seconds).
     
    September 19, 1961 – The awaited announcement came out. The STG was moving to Houston, Texas. This selection had been pending for some time and I was oblivious to the political process that arrived at that decision. Several factors came to my mind.
    Several months previous, my wife Marilyn had been sending clothes and supplies to the people of Clear Lake who had been devastated by Hurricane Carla. Marilyn’s questions ran to, “Why are we going there? Isn’t it flooded? How far away is Texas?” When our Dad returned from the Army Air Corps in 1946, he had been stationed at Shepherd Field in Wichita Falls, Texas. I remember him clearly announcing that he did not want to hear about Texas again, saying, “All I ever saw was sand and rattlesnakes.” And that was probably true for him. Our experience was exactly the opposite of Dad’s. We found a place where the people had the same attitude as President Kennedy, as in, “Anything is possible. But you have to work at it to make it happen. Your future is what you make it.”

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