John Glenn’s 1966 Rundown
A Future of Uncertainty
Most of interest is Glenn’s opinion about the future of U.S. spaceflight. He warned, “While Project Mercury determined that man could go safely into space, and Project Gemini built the know-how that enabled us to proceed to the lunar exploration of Project Apollo, there remained no clear-cut goal of what U.S. objectives should be beyond Apollo.” Glenn pointed out that “planning was underway in 1961 for Project Apollo equipment that will not be tested until 1967 and will not actually be put into use until lunar landing and return perhaps in 1969.” His portrayal of NASA is one that isn’t entirely positive – he added, “To get a mandate on the future direction of the space program is probably the single greatest problem facing NASA management.”
Later in the book, the “Space Exploration” section pops up, emblazoned with an exquisite (black and white) photo from the Gemini 11 mission, depicting India and Ceylon from 460 nautical miles up. But the section began with, “The nation’s exploits in 1966 were overshadowed early in 1967 by the tragic deaths of three U.S. astronauts in a routine test for what was to have been the first manned Apollo flight.” I couldn’t have summed up things better, as the piece added: “The tragedy seemed especially poignant because it came on the heels of a highly significant year in space.”
In the decades before the Internet made finding spaceflight information available at merely a mouse click, The World Book Encyclopedia sets captured the imaginations of many a space-obsessed kid, including this one. Their associated Year Books compiled events from the previous year, and these books – especially during the 1960s time frame – unveiled an increasingly sophisticated American space program. However, the words within the 1967 edition are prophetic, and sometimes downright chilling, predicting a future in space lacking concrete direction, while not predicting an unthinkable, yet preventable tragedy.