Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the announcement of America's original seven astronauts.
Nasa itself had been created less than a year earlier, beginning operations on 1958 October 1. After rigorous testing of hundreds of candidates, the seven astronauts for Project Mercury were chosen on 1959 April 1. The Mercury Seven were introduced to the world in a press conference in Washington DC on April 9.
Front, L to R: Gus Grissom, Scott Carpenter, Deke Slayton, Gordon Cooper
Ohio's Zanesville Recorder observes the fiftieth anniverary with an exclusive interview with John Glenn. 'I can't believe it's been that long,' Glenn tells reporter Holly Richards. 'The experience back then of being selected and participating in the early flights is so vivid to me, it seems like this all happened a couple of weeks ago.'
"I was on test pilot duty with supersonic aircraft for 3 1/2 years when the space program started and they were looking for this new word 'astronaut,'" he said. "When I was a kid in New Concord, there was no word like that. It was in the realm of test flying, and President Eisenhower decided he wanted military test pilots.[...]
"There were a lot of tests; it was everything they knew how to give," Glenn said. "This was a brand new experience and they didn't want people to freak out in this new experience of space."
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"The early flights got so much attention because they were open to the world, they were not secrets," Glenn said. "When the Soviets sent up Gagarin, the data and information was secret. We had international press at the Cape for the launch, and the Soviets hadn't had that; it wasn't permitted. President Eisenhower decided he wanted the program open for the whole world; he said we were going to succeed or fail with the world watching, and I think that was a good decision."
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"I thought this was not just a stunt; I looked at it as we were seven people starting a new service, like the Army or Air Force, that would continue for a long time and be important for the country. I'm proud of that, but more than that I feel I've had some wonderful opportunities. [...] Most people have similar opportunities in different areas of their lives. The thing is to be as trained as you can and to make the most of them."
Nasa observes the anniversary with a special interactive web site.