Saturday, February 4, 2012

50 YA - American Atlas problems delay launch

Friendship 7 on Atlas rocket.

Fifty years ago, it was the USA experiencing all sorts of rocket problems. NASA was behind the Russians on launching men into orbit of the Earth, and was eager to send up astronaut John Glenn in the Mercury Capsule, nicknamed "Friendship 7," on top the Atlas rocket. The Atlas had more thrust and fuel than the Redstone, used to launch Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom into sub-orbital flights over the Atlantic.

The launch would have taken place on January 27, but weather played a part in cancelling that flight. Astronaut Glenn had patiently waited for more than five hours strapped in the capsule until word came down that the bad weather would prevent flight controllers from monitoring his liftoff during the first critical few minutes.

Then on January 30, worse news was given to the press and the waiting American public: a fuel leak in the Atlas booster would need repairs. As John Glenn put it: "Sure, I'm disappointed, but this is a complicated business. I don't think we should fly until all elements of the mission are ready. When we have completed all our tests satisfactorily then we'll go." On February 1st, NASA announced that repairs would be completed by February 13, and the flight could be launched then.

John Glenn practices entering Friendship 7, with the help of Gunther Wendt, the famous German rocket scientist-turned-American-rocket-engineer-now-pad leader who led the team of engineers working on the launch pad.

Also on February 1st, the American public began showing their frustration with the delays. Politics were involved in space back in 1962, just like today. Congressman James G. Fulton, who was the top Republican on the House Committee on Science and Astronautic, said "There's no doubt our overall space program is slipping despite the high words and fine praise coming from the White House... if it continues to slip we'll be lucky to get a man on the Moon before 1980."

Remaining positive, on February 3rd Glenn announced to the press that the scheduled rocket flight on February 13th "can only bode success." He was still unaware, of course, of further delays to come.

Meanwhile, on February 4th, the world was quite relieved to see a prediction fail to come to pass. It just so happened that Hindu astrologers had predicted that because of an unusual alignment of five planets and the Sun occurred. According to their prediction, a previously unknown and invisible planetoid named Khentu would also move into alignment and cause Earthly disasters. Of course, nothing happened, and the Indian Prime Minister chided the astrologers and their public believers for such nonsense.

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