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John Glenn and Earth orbit anniversary: America needs manned flight in space

This week's 50-year anniversary of astronaut John Glenn and his Earth orbit should remind America that it needs manned flight in space. Some say the space race is over. But America is in a new space race for jobs, skills, and knowledge for the future.

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Sen. John Glenn talks, via satellite, with the astronauts on the International Space Station Feb. 20 in Columbus, Ohio. Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth, piloting Friendship 7 around it three times in 1962. The ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Eddie Bernice Johnson, argues here against cuts to the manned space flight program.

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

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Fifty years ago this week, on February 20, 1962, John Glenn Jr. became the first American to orbit the Earth, inspiring generations of citizens and setting the nation’s human space flight program on a path to a successful moon landing a mere seven years later.

As ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring Mr. Glenn, who is also a former senator. Joining him as recipients of congressional medals were Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr., the crew of the first mission to land on the moon back in 1969.

Each of these individuals is a genuine national hero and worthy of our gratitude. They and the astronauts that preceded and followed them were willing to put their lives at risk – and sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice – in order to push back the frontiers of knowledge and help our country achieve preeminence in space exploration.

Yet, America’s human space flight program – scaled back since the final space shuttle launch last July – has always been about much more than simply building rockets and space capsules and launching astronauts into space.

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