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Workers celebrate Glenn anniversary

Veterans of Nasa's Project Mercury have reunited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of John Glenn's orbital flight, visiting the old launch pad and meeting the famed astronaut.

The first American to orbit the Earth thanked the 125 retired Mercury workers, now in their 70s and 80s, who gathered at Florida's Kennedy Space Centre to swap stories and pose for pictures.

"We might have been the focal point of attention, but you were all the ones making the whole thing possible," Mr Glenn told the crowd.

The 90-year-old and Scott Carpenter, 86, the only other survivor of Nasa's original Mercury 7 astronauts, spent nearly an hour being photographed with the veterans, posing in front of a black curtain with a model of a Mercury-Atlas rocket.

Earlier the Mercury brigade travelled by bus to Launch Complex 14, the pad from which Mr Glenn rocketed away on February 20 1962.

As retired engineer Norm Beckel rode to the pad, he recalled being seated in the blockhouse right beside Mr Carpenter as the astronaut called out to Mr Glenn just before lift-off, "Godspeed John Glenn". Mr Carpenter would duplicate Mr Glenn's orbital flight three months later.

But there is more to the story. "Before he said that, he said, 'Remember, John, this was built by the low bidder'," Mr Beckel, 81, said.

The Mercury-Atlas rocket shook the domed bunker-like structure, although no-one inside could hear the roar because of the thick walls. "Nothing was said by anybody until they said, 'He's in orbit', and then the place erupted," Mr Beckel recalled.

Mr Beckel and Jerry Roberts, 78, a retired engineer who also was in the blockhouse, said almost all the workers were then in their 20s and fresh out of college. "I don't know if I'd trust a 20-year-old today," Mr Beckel said. "They don't know it, but we would have worked for nothing," said Mr Roberts.

Nasa's celebration of Mr Glenn's three-orbit, five-hour flight aboard the Friendship 7 capsule began on Friday at Cape Canaveral. The festivities next move to Columbus, Ohio, where he will be honoured at a gala at Ohio State University, whose school of public affairs bears his name.


From Belfast Telegraph