The Inner Reaches began in Outer Space

From the June 1962 cover of National Geographic

February 20th marked the 50th anniversary of the day astronaut John Glenn orbited of Earth. He was one of NASA’s original Mercury astronauts, depicted in the recent film, “The Right Stuff.” The mission lasted just under five hours, allowing Glenn to circle the globe three times in the capsule he named, ” Friendship 7.”

When John Glenn made his historic flight, I was just 9 years old, but it had a huge affect on me even then. My father was an executive in the General Electric Company in the Missile and Space Division for many of the years leading up to the moon landing in 1969, and would often come home with souvenirs from NASA and the related teams that were a part of the space program. One day, when my Dad came home from work, he made all of us wash our hands in the kitchen. We couldn’t figure out why but did as we were told.

Once we had clean hands, he lined us up in a row and shook each of our hands like he was a visiting relative or dignitary who had just been introduced to us. When he was done, he told us, “You just shook the hand of the man who shook hands with John Glenn!” We were astonished, and began jumping up and down and shouting about our amazement. John Glenn had visited the facility where he worked that day and he had the opportunity to meet and talk to him briefly as the manager of his division. He also got an autograph, and told Glenn that he had a few amateur astronauts at home. Here is the paper with the autograph on it:

Soon after the memorabilia started to accumulate, I started to gather it in a large scrapbook, like other boys my age, and dreamed of being an astronaut. I called my scrapbook, “Man Reaches for the Stars: The History of Manned Space Flight,” and continued to accumulate newspaper clippings and images from magazines, and a variety of actual photos that my father was able to bring home to me from his workplace. I never once really thought I had the “Right Stuff,” but I loved to dream about traveling to space and loved everything about space. We were on vacation down at the shore in Brigantine, New Jersey, when the American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, and we sat together with my Dad, and marveled at how far we had come since the days of the Mercury Astronauts.

Looking through my scrapbook this evening, I felt a little nostalgia for those days of amazement and wonder, and for the richness of the world my father had helped to paint for me, and how he encouraged me to dream big dreams, even if they wouldn’t all come true. I still share the fascination with space today, and when I look at the images of the earth from space, it always makes me long to see the view for myself, to experience the amazing sight first-hand. No view is quite like it…

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5 comments

  1. patricemj

    What a nice look at the early life that helped to form the consciousness of John. Your father really had a flare, I love that he made you all wash away the residue of your earthly lives so that there she be no gritty interference between your own hands and that of the divine astronaut!

    • jjhiii24

      I was always in awe of my Dad as a young man, and how it seemed he was always doing something important at his job. Even as a teenager I always thought he was the smartest person I knew, in spite of some rough patches when I thought his parenting skills weren’t the greatest. When I entered the military at age 20, he tried to talk me out of it, but when I had completed my service successfully after six years, he seemed to have a much greater respect for me as an independent person. When I became a father myself, it really gave me a renewed sense of awe about him again. Parenting a large family is pretty tough sometimes, and I appreciated him much more as I struggled with many of the same challenges he had raising us.

      I sure wish he was still around sometimes when the going gets tough these days. I could use a little of that flare right about now……Thanks for your thoughts.

      • patricemj

        How wonderful to be the fortunate son of a father who filled your heart and mind with wonder. This is invaluable, I think. I’m sure your own children feel similarly about you.

  2. marjorie

    The scrapbook you’re still keeping up to this day must have looked quite interesting.
    When I was still in school. the study of outer space in our Modern Science curriculum never failed to fascinate me. Now I simply suit myself with the latest cosmic news on the internet and gorge my eyes with the spectacular images that showcase the beauty of the different heavenly bodies in our universe.
    It’s so delightful to learn tidbits of your life during your earlier years here, John.

    • jjhiii24

      I kept my space travel scrapbook, thinking at some point one of my children or grandchildren might find it interesting, but it seems it still mostly holds value only to me. You are right to point out that so much is so easily available now that a scrapbook like mine seems quaint now. There was no internet when I constructed it, and I loved looking at the photographs from space in National Geographic and Life Magazine. Even the Sunday newspaper would have sections with images and stories that I just loved to read and put in my book.

      It pleases me to know that you enjoy hearing of my earlier years. I would take equal pleasure in hearing about some of your early memories…

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