Monday, February 20, 2012

The Ascendancy of Mercury

Happy President's Day! Once upon a time in America we honored individually the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The duo are two of the most important men this nation has ever known. The former was the leader of the Continental Army in the War of Independence and is commonly referred to as "the Father of His Country". The latter an Illinois railsplitter who did nothing less than (a) save the Union; and (b) emancipate the slaves....and did so in what amounted to slightly more than a single term in office.

However, in 21st Century America the concept of the National Holiday and the concept of the "participation medal" (a/k/a the "Thank you for playing our game" award) have run headlong into one another. Thus, instead of recognizing Washington's birthday and/or Lincoln's birthday, we have created one catch-all day. Presumably it honors not only those two men and the others whose time in office was viewed as positive but also those lesser lights who either harbored the delusion that they were bigger than the office (I am talking to you Mr. Harding....and most especially you Milhous) or who proved to be completely overmatched by the gig upon winning it (Yes Mr. Hoover I am referring now to you....and feel free to tap Mr. Carter on the shoulder for I am most assuredly speaking of him also).

Truth be told, if you are enjoying a day off from either work or school today because this is the day marked on the calendar to acknowledge the generally nondescript Presidencies of gentlemen such as Van Buren, Tyler, Grant, Harrison (either one), McKinley or Fillmore - the last one of whom the official White House web site's biographical information begins with this paragraph, "In his rise from a log cabin to wealth and the White House, Millard Fillmore demonstrated that through methodical industry and some competence an uninspiring man could make the American dream come true", you care not at all about the dumbing down of this holiday. Too bad Fillmore held the office several generations before Henry Ford invented the Model T. That description would have made one hell of a bumper sticker. I know, I know. You have the day off. Got it.

He was never an American President but John Glenn has long been an American hero. Glenn served the people of Ohio for a quarter-century in the United States Senate. Long before he first sought election to public office, Glenn earned his living in the most rarified of air.

Fifty years ago today, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. On February 20, 1962 Glenn - in his capsule named Friendship 7 orbited the Earth three times during a five-hour flight. By the end of the decade Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would walk on the Moon. Steps that likely would not have been possible had earlier legs of the journey - such as Glenn's - not been successful.

John Glenn is 92 years old now. This weekend he and his wife Annie - to whom he has been married for sixty-eight years - were in Florida as NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of his flight with a reunion of its Mercury team. Glenn is one of the last two surviving Mercury astronauts. He was joined in Florida by the other, Scott Carpenter (that would be the University of Colorado's own Scott Carpenter). In saluting his long-time friend and former fellow astronaut and all of the other members of the Mercury program who were together again Carpenter remarked, "John, thank you for your heroic effort and all of you for your heroic effort. But we stand here waiting to be outdone."

Ain't that just like a couple of old astronauts....always planning for the NEXT mission.


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