This Day in History: 10/29/1998 - John Glenn Returns to Space

This Day in History: 10/29/1998 - John Glenn Returns to Space

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In this "This Day in History" video clip learn about different events that have occurred on October 29th. Some of the events include Black Tuesday when the stock market crashed and when Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula. Also, Muhammad Ali won his first fight and John Glenn returned to space.

50 Years Later, John Glenn's Space Legacy Still Circling Earth

Fifty years ago Monday (Feb. 20), John Glenn made history by circling the Earth three times.

He wasn't the first person in space, nor the first American. He wasn't even the first person to orbit the planet. But Glenn's five-hour flight onboard Friendship 7 set him apart from the space travelers who launched before him and established a lasting legacy that outshone many of those who followed.

Not that Glenn understands the fascination or can explain why.

"I really cannot answer that," Glenn told a week before his Mercury-Atlas 6 flight's 50th anniversary. "I think maybe, that it kind of started off perhaps by the fact that it was sort of an 'on-again, off-again' flight. Well, let me back up a little bit. "

Glenn, now 90, was chosen in April 1959 to be one of the United States' first astronauts. Three years later, he was the pilot for the first orbital spaceflight by an American, following two orbital flights by Soviet cosmonauts and two suborbital launches by his fellow Mercury astronauts.

"It was a pretty good jump," said Glenn of the transition from the 15-minute U.S. suborbital missions that preceded his. "I do not want to expand it to more than it was, but those flights of course, did not get up to orbital speed, the two flights ahead of mine. Mine got up to orbital speed and then had to come back in and make a re-entry from orbital speed, and so that was a major difference."

"And the time in weightlessness extended of course, a lot. The flight was four hours and 55 minutes, so it gave three orbits &mdash about an hour and 29 minutes for each orbit," he said.

On-again, off-again

Before he could launch into the history books however, he first needed to get off the ground, a trial that Glenn also attributes to launching his legacy. [Photos: John Glenn's Space Legacy]

"I went on the 11th scheduled date," Glenn said. "I only suited up four times, but twice I was on top of the [launch] vehicle &mdash once for about six hours, ready to go and then they had to cancel because of weather. The other time was [due to] equipment."

"So when I finally did go, this had been several months of on-again, off-again, on-again, one problem after another. I think when we finally went, there was a big sigh of relief. Because it was [openly publicized] and because the press covered it completely, I think there was a world interest in it," he said.

"And I think that was some of the reason why so much attention was paid to it back then. It sort of started things going as it has ever since," Glenn said.

Still in orbit

In the 50 years since he first flew, Glenn served as a U.S. Senator and in 1998, returned to space aboard the shuttle Discovery. At age 77, he set a new record as the oldest person to reach orbit.

The legacy of his Mercury flight however, continues to live on in pop culture.

"I think the duration that people have been interested in that, the first flight back then, has been somewhat of a surprise," Glenn said. "We are so used to the new and the untried in this country, that I think we have gotten used to that. So it has been a little bit of a surprise that attention has been and keeps coming back to some of those very early flights."

Glenn and his 1962 flight has been celebrated and cited in movies and music, appeared on postage stamps and on magazine covers, and has been commemorated through a long line of memorabilia and collectibles released to the public over the half-century since. The latter even helped inspire at least one person to follow in Glenn's footsteps to space.

"One of my fondest memories of John Glenn's flight came from a box of Red Ball Jets," Don Pettit, one of two NASA astronauts now on board the International Space Station (ISS), told collectSPACE. "Red Ball Jets were a particular brand of tennis shoes that kids loved to wear. They had a little red sticker on the side that would fall off after about the first week, but they were really cool shoes."

"In this particular box of Red Ball Jets was one of these really flimsy vacuum formed records. And that record was a soundtrack recording of John Glenn describing what the Earth looked like during one of his orbits. I remember that as a kid," Pettit said.

John Glenn to Go Back Into Orbit, at Age 77

In a wonder of aeronautics and geriatrics, Senator John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, has won his campaign to be rocketed back into space at the age of 77, space officials and experts said today.

The news that the spry, ever ebullient hero of the pioneer American space program will go back into orbit for about 10 days this fall -- after his 77th birthday in July -- was an instant source of coast-to-coast smiles of amazement today among Americans who cherish the memory of Mr. Glenn's three-orbit ride 36 years ago.

In that historic flight, Mr. Glenn's image of mid-American modesty and freckle-faced mastery of his space mission was an instant restorative for national morale badly eroded in the cold war years by the Soviet Union's alarming superiority in early space flight.

In his new trip, Senator Glenn won a place aboard the Discovery shuttle flight in October in the name of partaking in experiments about space and the aging process, space experts said.

The news was not officially confirmed. But space experts being briefed today by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the flight would be announced on Friday at a midday news conference confirming that Mr. Glenn would be sent into space again, this time as the oldest astronaut in history.

Although some critics have already voiced skepticism about the scientific justification for sending Mr. Glenn back into space, such criticism might not make much of an impression on people who fondly remember his pioneering mission in 1962.

''We think we have a pretty solid rationale for it,'' a senior NASA official said, noting that Mr. Glenn would attend the news conference.

The agency has lined up a half-dozen space medicine experts to discuss the issues surrounding Mr. Glenn's return to orbit.

Dr. John M. Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University and a NASA adviser, said today that the agency had given the flight an unambiguous thumbs up.

''I doubt that NASA would have gone out and solicited Senator Glenn,'' Dr. Logsdon said. 'ɻut he has been able to make a case that has convinced them that he is qualified to fly and that there are benefits to having him do so.''

Senator Glenn, looking about as lithe, sparkle-eyed and confident as he was in his first go-round as an astronaut, came out of his Capitol office briefly as the news swept the capital and a throng of reporters gathered.

''I can understand there is a great deal of interest in this matter, but today I have no comment on it,'' he said, his mood seeming closer to merriment than despair. ''I look forward to discussing this in the future.''

For the Senator, who plans to close out his political career at the end of this year, the flight would be an enormous personal coup, for he has been a one-man lobby for his return to space flight for the past two years.

For the nation, his rocket trip will be a spiritual lark and a fresh sort of space adventure, by all the reactions of astonishment and pleasure that, initially, at least, seemed to overwhelm any expressions of concern and doubt that he can handle the flight.

''Why can't he?'' said Dr. Adrian LeBlanc, a medical physicist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. ''It did not occur to me to fly older people.''

Dr. LeBlanc, who studies how astronauts' muscle and bone react to spaceflight and sees no problem if Mr. Glenn is fit and has no serious medical problems, added, 'ɺge per se is probably not a contradiction.''

The oldest astronaut to fly in space was Dr. Story Musgrave, who was 61 years old when he made his sixth and final journey aboard the shuttle Columbia in 1996. On that flight, from Nov. 19 to Dec. 7, Dr. Musgrave completed his flight career after being told by NASA that he would not go up again. Before that, the oldest to fly was Vance Brand, who was 59 when he last flew in space in 1990.

Mr. Glenn, an Ohio Democrat who began his Senate career in 1974, would not be the first Senator to voyage in space. Senator Jake Garn of Utah, chairman of the space committee, wangled that honor. He made 109 orbits in 1985 and became so famously space-sick that his Senate nickname upon return to the Capitol cloakroom became Barfin' Jake.

Space shuttles often have a crew of six, but a seventh place can be easily added for the Senator, officials said. Mr. Glenn, who flies his own private plane between Washington and his home in Ohio, has for months been dismissing any doubts of whether he still has ''the right stuff,'' as described by Tom Wolfe in his book about the early space program.

Mr. Glenn was first among the Mercury Seven, the original astronauts. 'ɺmong the seven instant heroes,'' Mr. Wolfe wrote, ''John Glenn's light shone brightest.''

The outpouring of relief and adulation was phenomenal after his three-orbit flight on Feb. 20, 1962. The first American to orbit Earth received a Broadway parade reminiscent of the one after Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight, 35 years before. Mr. Glenn and his party attended a play that night, ''How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,'' and the audience rose and cheered the sight of him. The cast had rewritten dialogue lines in the play to make proud jokes about the grand Glenn space flight. It was like a royal command performance.

''I think it's great,'' Michael D. McCurry, the White House press secretary, said of the word that Mr. Glenn would be weightless once more. Asked what President Clinton thought about the idea, Mr. McCurry said, ''He has the same affection for John Glenn that most Americans do.''

The news conference is certain to face questions about the risks involved in re-launching Mr. Glenn at his age -- 15 years beyond the grounding age of some far more experienced NASA pilots. There also are questions about whether there are lingering effects from the bathroom fall that troubled Mr. Glenn's sense of balance early in his political career.

Analysts are sharply divided on the move's worth. The scientific justification of using Mr. Glenn to study aging in space has little or no merit, some say, adding that the shuttle system is too unreliable and dangerous for national joy rides. Others disagree, and some experts applaud the move for its sheer boldness.

''I wish they would not confuse the issue with all this foolishness about medical research,'' said John E. Pike, the director of space policy for the Federation of American Scientists, a private group in Washington.

''His big wish is getting fulfilled. John Glenn's first flight didn't have anything to do with science and this one doesn't either. Flying in space is about the right stuff.''

For the political groundlings the Senator will leave down here, undoubtedly there will be a guessing game as to precisely how Mr. Glenn mastered the politics at NASA and won his heart's delight. Some are already noting, for example, that the Senator has been the chief Democratic defender of President Clinton in the Republican Senate's inquiry into campaign finances.

But the case for Senator Glenn's cycling back to his roots in American space history is being described in terms far beyond earthly politics.

''He sounds wonderful,'' said Dr. Robert N. Butler, a specialist on aging at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine who spoke with Mr. Glenn today. ''He sounded very clear and determined and pleased that this decision would be made, and that he would have this opportunity to go again into space. It's an amazing story.''

Anticipation builds for John Glenn's big day

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) -- After months of painstaking planning and tough training, of ardent anticipation and hyperventilating hype, Sen. John Glenn's big day in space finally arrives Thursday.

After a crew breakfast and a final briefing, Glenn and six other astronauts will climb into the space shuttle Discovery for their scheduled liftoff at 2 p.m. EST. Forecasters say launch weather should be perfect.

"It looks like Mother Nature wants John Glenn to return to space as much as the rest of us," said Air Force meteorologist Capt. Clif Stargardt. "We're looking at a zero percent chance of the weather preventing launch."

Thursday's flight will be Glenn's first venture into the inky reaches of space since 1962, when he made history as the first American in orbit. At age 77, he will be the oldest person ever to venture into space.

Famous and powerful flock to Florida for liftoff

Glenn's daughter, Lyn Glenn, commends NASA's record of success
32 sec. / 396 K AIFF or WAV
Complete interview with Lyn Glenn
Real 28K 56K
Windows Media 28K 56K
What If?
NASA has a plan for every shuttle emergency

About 250,000 people are expected to converge on Florida's Space Coast to catch a glimpse of the liftoff. Roadsides were lined with campers, as people staked out choice viewing spots.

Some 3,500 journalists are covering the mission, and a gaggle of celebrities and politicians, including President Clinton, are also expected by launch time.

Published reports say that Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio and Bruce Willis all plan to attend, although none are on NASA's official 22-page list of celebrities. Singer Jimmy Buffett is writing a story about the launch for Rolling Stone magazine.

"I love a great show. This is a great show. This is the circus coming to town, and it's great to see (Glenn) do that," Buffett said.

Crew says goodbye to friends, family

Wednesday, Glenn and the other astronauts stood near their launch pad, waving and shouting to relatives and friends who were kept 20 feet away to prevent the crew from catching a cold. Fourteen busloads of people traveled to the pad for the good-bye ceremony.

"A little different trip this time," Glenn called out in response to a question.

Back in 1962, Glenn was in orbit for just five hours before returning to the bonds of Earth. This time around, the mission lasts for nine days, giving the senator plenty of time for sightseeing out of Discovery's windows.

On Wednesday, the crew went through some flight training, attended a briefing and were given some time to relax. After dinner and bidding farewell to their spouses, lights out was scheduled for 11:30 p.m.

Steak and eggs on pre-flight menu

Somewhat overshadowed by the hoopla over Glenn are the six other members of the crew, which includes four other Americans and one astronaut each from Japan and Spain.

In addition to Glenn, the crew includes Curtis Brown Jr., the commander pilot Steven Lindsey mission specialists Scott Parazynski, Stephen Robinson and Pedro Duque and payload specialist Chiaki Mukai.

On Thursday, the astronauts will be awakened at 8:30 a.m., undergo a brief medical examination and then sit down to the traditional pre-launch breakfast of steak and eggs.

After that, they will climb into their orange space suits, board a van and ride out the pad where a fueled and poised Discovery awaits them.

During Discovery's mission the crew of seven will perform 83 scientific experiments and release the Spartan satellite for two days of solar studies.

The Man and the Mission

John Herschel Glenn Jr. was born July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio. He attended primary and secondary schools in New Concord, Ohio. He received a bachelor of science degree in engineering from Muskingum College in New Concord. He died Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio.

He flew missions during World War II and the Korean War. He received many medals, awards and decorations for his achievements during his time in the military and as an astronaut.

NASA selected Glenn to be one of the seven Project Mercury astronauts in 1959. In addition to a lustrious carreer in the Navy he serves as a U.S. Senator from 1987 to 1995. After retiring from the Senate at at age 77 he becomes the oldest person to travel in space when he returns to space aboard the Space Shutttle Discovery.

His c onnection to the Turks & Caicos Island and Grand Turk began in February 1962 as part of the Mecury project and space capsule Friendship 7 . Glenn landed in nearby waters after his historic orbit of Earth. He was the first American to orbit Earth, circling the globe three times in four hours and 56 minutes. After his splashdown he was brought to Grand Turk.

John Glenn’s Details - Third flight in Mercury program

Capsule name - Friendship 7
August 27 1961 - Capsule arrived at Cape Canaveral
January 27 1962 - Countdown starts – Launch cancelled due to adverse weather
February 15 1962 - Flight Safety Review
February 20 1962 - 2.20 a.m. Glenn woken and told mission is a “go”
February 20 1962 - Launch at 9:47:39 am EST
February 20 1962 - Lands at 14:43:02 pm EST

Flight Details

Orbits - 3
Altitude - between 99 and 162 miles
Total flight time - 4 hours 56 minutes
Total time weightless - 4 hours 38 minutes
Total miles flown - 81 000
Acceleration force - Launch, 8 G. Re entry, over 8 G

During John Glenn’s mission the recovery area was nicknamed “Area Hotel” and during his second orbit Glenn reported “This is Friendship 7, checking down in Area Hotel on the weather, and it looks good down that way. Looks like we’ll have no problem on recovery” to which Grissom in Bermuda responded “Very good. We’ll see you in Grand Turk”.

Broadcast between John Glenn and the Bermuda Tracking Station(Flight time on left)
03 12 32 - Glenn This is Friendship Seven, checking down in Area Hotel on the weather and it looks good down that way. Looks like we’ll have no problem on recovery.
03 12 32 - Bermuda Station Very good. We’ll see you in Grand Turk
03 12 43 - Glenn Yes sir.
03 12 48 - Glenn In fact I can see clear down, see all the islands clear down the whole chain from up here, can see way beyond them and Area Hotel looks excellent for recovery.

Prior to re entry ground instruments indicated that the heat shield had become loose. As a precaution mission controllers did not jettison the retrorocket package, which was attached just below the heat shield. Even with this problem Friendship 7 landed a few miles short of the planned target, 800 miles southeast of Bermuda.

After landing and being brought to Grand Turk there were various press releases and in one Robert Voas, Mercury Training Officer, recalled Glenn’s account of returning in “a shooting star”.


Lookouts on the destroyer USS Noa sighted the main parachute at an altitude of 5,000 ft from a range of 5 nautical miles. The USS Noa had the spacecraft aboard 21 minutes after landing and astronaut John Glenn remained in the spacecraft during pickup. Original plans had called for Glenn to exit through the top hatch but he was becoming uncomfortably warm and it was decided to exit by the easier side hatch. Glenn was transferred by helicopter from the USS Noa to the USS Randolph, and then flown to Grand Turk for his debriefing and medical as planned. The capsule joined him later when it was delivered to Grand Turk by ship.

On Grand Turk

On February 21st Colonel Glenn attended a party given in his honour at the clubhouse of the USAF Missile tracking Station. Most of this time was taken up with signing autographs and going through the details of his flight. He went to bed at midnight, and woke at 6 am to continue with the debriefing process.

The Return to America

When the US Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson arrived at 4am to take John Glenn home, a large part of the population was waiting for him at the airport and greeted him with great enthusiasm in spite of the early hour. The records state “Of all the receptions which the Vice-President and the astronaut were later to receive, perhaps none would be smaller but certainly none would be warmer or more sincere that that given by the people of Grand Turk on their departure in the early morning of 23 Feb”.

On 26th February 1962, John Glenn, with wife Annie were greeted by thousands who lined Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue. In the car with them was Vice President Lyndon B Johnson, Chairman of the Nautical Aeronautics and Space Council.

Culture & History

Make Contact

The Museum is a publicly funded not for profit organization.

It is not a part of the Turks & Caicos Islands Government and receives no regular support from the Government. Only your Support makes it all possible. Become a supporter today — we can’t do it without your help.

Click here to view a timeline of important events and dates in the history of the islands

The Colors of the Turks and Caicos Islands

RED was chosen to represent the nation’s capital, Grand Turk. The color is taken from the red/pink fruit found on the national plant, the Turks Head Cactus. They were once found in abundance on Grand Turk before they were removed to accommodate the salt ponds.

WHITE was chosen to represent Salt Cay. The color came from salt. The salt industry was largely responsible for populating the islands of Salt Cay, Grand Turk and South Caicos.

ORANGE was chosen to represent South and East Caicos. The color comes from the Spiny Lobster and fish and reflects the fishing industry in the “Big South.”

TAN was chosen to represent Middle Caicos. The color is taken from the raw material (thatch) that once covered the roofs of the houses. It is also used to make straw hats, baskets and brooms. Middle Caicos is known for the superior quality of native craftwork.

GREEN was chosen to represent North Caicos and Parrot Cay. The color is taken from the fruit trees and other types of trees that flourish in the most fertile of all the islands. North Caicos is also home of Wade’s Green Plantation, the most successful of Caicos Islands cotton plantations.

TURQUOISE was chosen to represent the islands of Providenciales, Pine Cay and West Caicos. The color is taken from the beautiful turquoise waters that surround these islands on which our famous Caicos fishing sloops sail. These turquoise waters also contribute to our newest industry, tourism.

PINK was chosen to represent the beautiful conch shell, flamingoes and the numerous uninhabited cays that make up our chain of islands.

YELLOW represents God’s glory as the sun shining down on all our beautiful islands and cays. The sun also contributes to our newest industry, tourism.

View a timeline of important events and dates in the history of the islands

A Few Artifacts You’ll See at the Museum

Our collections represent the rich historical, cultural and natural heritage of the Turks and Caicos Islands and its people.

Lucayan Duho

Photo courtesy of Joanna Ostapkowicz. The Duho is one of the rarest artifacts in the museum’s collections. It was used a ceremonial seat for the cacique or chief of the Lucayans, the first inhabitants of these islands.

Fresnel Lens

The Grand Turk Lighthouse was erected in 1852 and was originally designed to burn whale oil and had an Argand reflector lamp. In 1943 the lighthouse was converted to a Fresnel Lens one of these lenses is now on display at the Museum.

Swivel Gun

The Molasses reef wreck, an early Spanish Caravel was equipped with three types of breech-loading swivel guns, one type is shown above. The swivel guns are thought to be anti-personnel weapons placed wherever convenient along the ship’s rail.

Salt Industry Post Card

The museum has diverse collection of early postcards of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Most post cards depict scenes on Grand Turk, the capital and from the salt industry.

Governor of the Turks & Caicos Islands

H.E. Nigel Dakin CMG

The Turks & Caicos Islands National Museum on Grand Turk surely stands in one of the most majestic settings of any museum, anywhere! Perched on the edge of the Columbus Landfall national park. The 200-year-old building, “Guinep Lodge”, which houses a multitude of artifacts covering everything from the pre–Columbian Indians to the modern age, is a museum in its own right. The west facing building has stood firm and witnessed 200+ years of incredible TCI sunsets and has withstood every major hurricane since before records began.

The National Museum plays a vital role in recovering, preserving, recording and displaying the history of these island for all to see, enjoy and learn from. The museum’s archive is a veritable treasure trove of information, with enough information to fill two museums. With thousands of pre-Columbian artifacts from multiple archeological digs from around the TCI over the last 50 years, un-displayed artifacts from ancient warships, parish records or births, deaths and marriages dating back over 200 years a veritable gold mine of information, just waiting to be discovered.

The museum is not only an exhibition facility for local history and artifacts, but also undertakes important work in the community with multiple events throughout the year and supports all the TCI schools, has a regular summer camp and kids club for our budding historians and archeologists of tomorrow. The Grand Turk location includes a “science building” which is a fully fledged restoration facility to stabilize artifacts before they are displayed or stored in the archive. All of this work has been quietly undertaken since the museum was founded 30 years ago. There is also a campus on Provo and there are exciting plans underway to construct a new, multimillion dollar purpose-built facility for the wider enjoyment of our fascinating history. The Governor’s Office is proud to have supported the TCNMF over the years with vital capital projects.

Whether you are a local, or a visitor to our beautiful shores I encourage you to visit and support the Turks & Caicos National Museum and absorb our colorful and surprisingly diverse local history.

H E Nigel Dakin CMG

Governor of the Turks & Caicos Islands

Carolyn Leach Huntoon

"I think I was pretty fortunate," Huntoon, who began her career at NASA (at what was then called the "Manned Space Center" Huntoon noted) as a medical researcher, said about sexual harassment at NASA.

Huntoon was a trailblazer not only as a woman in science and in leadership positions, but also in the incredible work that she did. Before taking on incredible leadership roles at the agency, she conducted some of the earliest scientific experiments examining how spaceflight affects human health. Her work was and continues to be an important and critical part of human spaceflight.

"Personally," she said, "I had people say unpleasant things to me . but . I outlasted those people . they retired, they died," she said.

Newsletter Archive

Californians coped Monday with fire, smoke, wind and power outages as firefighters continued to battle flames around the state. Meteorologists report that another “wind event” was expected Tuesday in Northern California. Rain doesn’t appear to be in the forecast anytime soon.

Senior Islamic State leaders in Syria are coming under fire, part of what appears to be an urgent campaign to gut the terror group’s brain trust. The U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces said Monday it had carried out a series of raids aimed at getting the terror group’s key players dead or alive.

Pakistan has reassured the United States of its “steadfast” support to the peace and reconciliation process in war-shattered Afghanistan, stressing the importance for all parties to take “practical” steps to reduce hostilities.

VIDEO: In Santa Fe, New Mexico, a unique college has been immersing students in Native American contemporary arts and culture for more than 55 years. The one-of-a-kind school draws both native and non-native Americans from across the country who wish to explore their artistic abilities while learning more about the diverse range of native cultures in their homeland.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Iran of seeking means to launch missiles at Israel from Yemen, where Tehran supports Houthi rebels. Netanyahu made the remark during a visit by a U.S. delegation, including presidential adviser Jared Kushner and U.S. secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin. He also called for tougher sanctions against Iran.

This Day in History: 10/29/1998 - John Glenn Returns to Space - HISTORY

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'Hidden Figures': When did John Glenn ask for 'the girl' to check the numbers?

In the movie "Hidden Figures," astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) launches to space, but not before he directs NASA to "get the girl to check the numbers."

&mdash "Get the girl to check the numbers."

With those seven words, spoken by astronaut John Glenn before he became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962, Katherine Johnson's role in history changed.

A "human computer" assigned to NASA's Flight Research Division at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, Johnson was the African-American, then-44-year-old "girl" who was the subject of the astronaut's directive. As such, she set about double checking the trajectory calculated by her electronic counterpart: room-size IBM 7090 computers at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

"If she says the numbers are good, I am ready to go," said Glenn, according to Margot Lee Shetterly, citing Johnson, in her book "Hidden Figures" (William Morrow, 2016) which served as the basis for the 20th Century Fox movie by the same title opening wide in U.S. theaters on Friday (Jan. 6).

That brief exchange, and the work Johnson did as a result of it, is a pivotal scene in the feature film, which stars Taraji P. Henson as the mathematician and Glen Powell as the astronaut. Like most "based on true events" films though, "Hidden Figures" takes certain liberties with the history.

John Glenn (Glen Powell) meets mathematician Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) in the film "Hidden Figures."

"Those calculations for John Glenn took three days," said director Ted Melfi. "We can't do that in the movie, so even though [Johnson] is a math genius, she is not that much a genius."

"So yes, it took her 25 seconds in the film," said Melfi.

Shetterly writes that it actually took Johnson a day and a half to complete the calculations. But whether it was 36 or 72 hours, there is a potentially bigger question: When did Glenn ask for "the girl" to check the computers' numbers?

In "Hidden Figures," the movie, Johnson (Henson) rushes to complete the math while Glenn waits on the launch pad. She then runs to hand off her report to Mission Control (in real life, Johnson was in Virginia for the launch, while the flight controllers were at Cape Canaveral in Florida).

Shetterly writes in her book that Glenn, who died on Dec. 8 at the age of 95, conducted a final check of his Mercury- Atlas 6 mission flight plan during the three days that led up to his launch on Feb. 20, 1962. It is within that context that she describes Johnson making the calculations, but that may or may not be when it occurred.

Mathematician Katherine Johnson at work as a "human computer" at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

"Out of all of the things that I was trying to track down, this was the one," Shetterly told collectSPACE in an interview. "I spoke to some of the guys in Houston, with Katherine, and [searched through] documents. I cannot even tell you how many boxes of the Project Mercury reports, all of the computer printouts, I went through trying to find that exact thing."

Johnson told Shetterly it happened "weeks before" Glenn's launch, but her account, recalled more than 50 years after the event, "sort of moved around a little" over the course of her interviews.

"As best as I can tell and looking at all the details, her oral history testimony and NASA documents, it was some point very close to the launch in 1962, but I could never get the final date," stated Shetterly. "I have gotten close to it, but I haven't found that piece of paper that said it happened on this date, at this time, these many days before the launch."

The question of when might be further complicated by the history of Glenn's flight.

The first American to orbit Earth lifted off on Feb. 20, 1962, but that came after two months of false starts. Glenn first got ready to launch by entering quarantine at the Cape in December 1961.

Astronaut John Glenn enters his Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, for a launch attempt on Jan. 27, 1962.

"NASA hinted that the flight might occur before Christmas," Glenn wrote in his 1999 memoir. "Bob [Gilruth, head of the Space Task Group] knew it wouldn't hurt the agency if the president could give a Christmas present to the country in the form of an orbital flight."

That gift however, was not to be. Technical problems with Glenn's Mercury capsule, Friendship 7, slipped the flight to the next month. NASA announced a date of Jan. 16, 1962, but that was postponed due to issues with the propellant tanks for the mission's Atlas rocket.

On Jan. 27, after at least one delay for poor weather and another for technical concerns, Glenn proceeded through a pre-flight physical, put on his silver spacesuit, ascended the launch tower and boarded his spacecraft for launch.

"I lay there on my back in the contour couch for nearly six hours, wishing that the gantry would pull back, signaling a break in the clouds and imminent liftoff," Glenn wrote. "But they didn't break, and the launch window closed."

John Glenn (Glen Powell) crosses a walkway on the launch gantry in the feature film "Hidden Figures."

A new attempt on Feb. 1 was called off after it was found that a fuel leak had soaked an insulation blanket inside the Atlas. Two weeks later, the weather scrubbed tries on Feb. 14 and 16.

Finally, the weather improved, and Friendship 7 lifted off at 9:47 a.m. EST on Feb. 20, 1962.

So, with all those stops and starts, why would Glenn only become concerned with the computer-generated numbers for his orbital trajectory on what turned out to be his last, successful attempt? After all, had the weather cooperated, he might have lifted off as early as a month before without the benefit of Johnson's double-check.

Had that happened &mdash had Glenn flown his three orbits on Jan. 27, and were all other conditions equal &mdash he probably would have been okay. Johnson's math matched the IBM, establishing the computer (the electronic one) was reliable.

John Glenn reviews his orbital trajectory on a map the day after a launch scrub of his Mercury mission on Jan. 27, 1962.

As to the timing, at least two possibilities exists. Johnson could have performed the math earlier than she recalled, such that her verification came prior to the January launch attempts (or maybe even for the December pre-Christmas target), or, perhaps, the delays gave Glenn the extra time he needed to think through all the possibilities.

One detail that might bolster the latter scenario concerns how Glenn got the camera he used on board Friendship 7. According to his memoir, Glenn purchased the automatic camera at a Cocoa Beach drugstore in January, after his launch campaign had begun.

The delay from December gave Glenn the time to further consider the necessity of flying a camera after NASA had initially rejected the idea. Maybe the extra days and weeks also gave Glenn the time to recall the "girl" whose figures preceded the computers.

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What John Glenn Told National Geographic In His Last Interview

Two wars, 149 combat missions and three trips around the planet made John Glenn a historic figure.

Seven minutes of radio silence from Friendship 7 made him an American hero.

Today, more than 95 years after it began, John Glenn’s long and remarkable journey came to an end.

I spoke with Glenn by telephone on October 24 for what would be the last interview of his life. Most of our conversation concerned a forthcoming National Geographic book on astronauts, for which I'm a contributor.

Glenn’s health began to decline about three years ago. He had heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in 2014, then a stroke that robbed him of some vision.

On the day I spoke with him, Glenn volunteered that his health was failing.

But his recall of specifics from February 20, 1962—when the nation held its collective breath for seven minutes, fearing a potentially loose heat shield would cause Glenn’s Friendship 7 spacecraft to incinerate as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere—was astonishing. (See intimate pictures of Glenn's historic orbit.)

And he told me that twice during this year’s presidential campaign, when Hillary Clinton was campaigning in Columbus, she visited privately with Glenn and his wife, Annie, at their Columbus area home.

The Friendship 7 flight guaranteed adulation would follow Glenn for the rest of his days—through 24 years as the longest-serving U.S. Senator in Ohio history and his return to space in 1998 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. But the final act of Glenn’s public life was the one of which he was perhaps the proudest: creating the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State University.

By every measure imaginable, John Glenn’s was a live well lived, for a nation well served.

I knew Glenn well for 42 years. I first met him in 1974, during his successful general election campaign for the U.S. Senate.

During a talk last year in his office on the Ohio State campus, Glenn told me rarely did a day pass without someone asking about his 4 hour, 55 minute flight aboard Friendship 7.

But while Glenn left his New Concord, Ohio hometown long ago, New Concord’s values never left Glenn.

Given the enormity of his fame, Glenn remained remarkably grounded. And he never lost the conviction America’s best days are ahead of it.

“In science, medicine and other areas, we have tremendous opportunities in this country,” he told me in our interview. “And those opportunities will lead to amazing events. That’s the nature of this country. There will be other big days.

“Think what it will be like when we find the answer to cancer and other medical problems. And someday we will land on Mars. And that will be another big step in our movement out into space. And that will have us united as a country.”

Glenn also talked about his return to space at age 77, arguing it was arguably as meaningful as his first flight.

“And the reason is a lot of things that happen to the human body as you get old are very similar to what happens to the human body in space—on a more accelerated basis,” he explained.

“We should have more elderly people go up," he continued. "My one mission didn’t prove everything. We need a bigger sample of people in that age bracket to make it more meaningful to scientists.”

Editor's Note: Brent Larkin is a 47-year Cleveland journalist who spent nearly 20 years as the Plain Dealer’s editorial page editor. He retired in 2009 and now writes a weekly column for the newspaper and its

GLENN RETURNS TO SPACE: THE OVERVIEW 36 Years Later, Glenn Lifts Off for His Space Encore

John Glenn, an astronaut again at 77, returned to orbit today in the space shuttle Discovery for a rendezvous with the memory of a time when exploits of early astronauts held the world in thrall and for a long-awaited encore, this time as the oldest traveler in outer space.

At 2:19 P.M., after two suspenseful delays, the shuttle's two rockets and three engines ignited in flames and billowing vapors and lifted the seven-member crew -- including Mr. Glenn, the retiring Democratic Senator from Ohio and the first American to circle the planet -- into an orbit some 345 miles above Earth.

''Liftoff of Discovery with a crew of six astronaut heroes and one American legend,'' intoned Lisa Malone, the countdown commentator, at the moment the shuttle rose into a cloudless blue sky.

Although Mr. Glenn's flight had been criticized in many quarters as a publicity stunt and political payoff with little scientific value, an estimated 250,000 visitors to the Kennedy Space Center and surrounding communities, one of the biggest crowds to see a shuttle departure, followed Discovery's ascent, watching until it was no more than a vanishing point of light more than five minutes after liftoff. President Clinton, watching with Mrs. Clinton from the roof of the Launch Control Center, was the first sitting President to see a space launching here since Richard M. Nixon watched the takeoff of Apollo 12 in 1969.

In an interview on CNN before the liftoff, Mr. Clinton pointed out that today's flight -- the last mission before NASA begins launching the International Space Station in December -- was the end of an era. ''So John Glenn began this first phase of our space program, and he's ending it just before we start on the space station,'' Mr. Clinton said.

A few hours after Discovery reached orbit, Lieut. Col. Curtis L. Brown Jr., the commander, looked over at Mr. Glenn.

''Let the record show, John has a smile on his face and it goes from ear to ear,'' Colonel Brown told Mission Control. ''We haven't been able to remove it yet.''

In his first radio communication with Mission Control, Mr. Glenn was ebullient. 'ɺ trite old statement: zero-G and I feel fine,'' he said, paraphrasing his first reaction to zero gravity, in 1962.

Looking down on the Hawaiian islands, Mr. Glenn said: ''Today is beautiful and great. I just can't even describe it.''

More than 36 years ago, on Feb. 20, 1962, Mr. Glenn, then 40, rocketed aloft from here to become the first American to orbit the planet. Alone, squeezed into a tiny Mercury capsule, he made all of three orbits of Earth on a flight that lasted five hours. Today, aboard the relatively commodious Discovery, with 70 times the room of the Mercury capsule, Mr. Glenn began a mission planned to last nine days.

Two younger astronauts, Colonel Brown and Lieut. Col. Steven W. Lindsey, both of the Air Force, were at the controls of Discovery. From his passenger seat in the compartment below the flight deck, Mr. Glenn felt the bump at liftoff and the increasing vibration and noise of the first two minutes of surging rocket power, 20 times the thrust of the Atlas rocket that first put him in orbit. When Discovery's two solid-rocket boosters were jettisoned after a little more than two minutes, Mr. Glenn felt a sharper jolt and might have caught sight of a flash of light in the tiny compartment window.

In many ways, it was a more comfortable ascent this time. At most, the rocket power exerted on Mr. Glenn's body pressures about three times the normal force of gravity at sea level. The pressure was certainly nothing like the G-forces from the Atlas, which reached eight times normal levels.

As the shuttle's three hydrogen engines burned, Mr. Glenn could begin to relax to the steady whirring of turbines and fans. Eight and a half minutes after ignition, he and the other Discovery astronauts had reached orbit and, unbuckling the straps that secured them during liftoff, experienced the floating sensation of weightlessness. On his Friendship 7 flight in 1962, Mr. Glenn never got the chance to unbuckle and had no place to stretch out.

For the rest of the day, the crew moved slowly about Discovery, opening the cargo-bay doors and activating the systems and scientific instruments in the pressurized Spacehab module in the cargo bay where astronauts are to conduct many of their experiments.

Generally overlooked in the avid attention on Mr. Glenn was the multinational crew, including a Japanese and a Spanish astronaut, which is to get busy on Friday with dozens of astronomy observations, tests of hardware for the Hubble Space Telescope, and experiments on the effects of a low-gravity environment on insects, fish and and humans.

Much of the scientific work will be handled by Dr. Stephen K. Robinson, an engineer Pedro Duque, an aeronautical engineer from Spain who is representing the European Space Agency, and Dr. Chiaki Mukai, a Japanese physician and medical researcher. Mr. Glenn's primary duty will be to act as a test subject for investigations of physiological changes from space flight that appear to parallel changes in aging humans. His attending physician for many tests will be Dr. Scott E. Parazynski.

Such studies point up one of the sharpest contrasts between this flight and Mr. Glenn's first. '𧮬k then, the issue was not successful experiments but survival,'' Mr. Glenn said in a recent magazine interview. 'ɽoctors weren't sure whether humans could take eight G's going up and coming down. As test pilots, our job was to find out what we could do and couldn't do.''

NASA officials said Discovery was operating normally, but engineers said they were investigating the apparent loss of a small, insulated aluminum panel near the tail. A videotape of the launching showed the panel dropping off two seconds after main-engine ignition, five seconds before liftoff. The panel appeared to be the cover over a stowed parachute, which is deployed at landing to slow the shuttle on the runway.

At a news conference, Donald R. McMonagle, a shuttle official at the Kennedy center, said the incident was not expected to pose any additional risk or cause any change in mission plans. The shuttle could land without the 'ɽrag chute,'' which was added to the shuttles for extra braking force only after more than 50 safe landings without parachutes. The problem presented ''no hazard to operations of the vehicle in orbit,'' the official said.

A more detailed analysis of the problem is expected to be made on Friday, Mr. McMonagle said.

The day of Mr. Glenn's second launching broke warm and clear, with no signs of technical trouble on Discovery at Pad 39-B. Before his first mission, Mr. Glenn had to wait out 10 postponements because of weather or mechanical problems between December and Feb. 20 before he finally lifted off.

Today's countdown proceeded smoothly toward a scheduled 2 P.M. liftoff. At a pause at T-minus-nine minutes, Scott Carpenter, the astronaut who was Mr. Glenn's backup pilot in 1962, echoed his famous farewell to the Mercury flight, which was ''Godspeed, John Glenn.''

Speaking to the Discovery crew, Mr. Carpenter said, 'ɺt this point in the count, it seems appropriate to say to the crew, good luck, have a safe flight, and to say once again, Godspeed, John Glenn.''

But Discovery was not going anywhere yet. Alarms sounded in the cockpit and were recorded at Mission Control in Houston. The countdown was halted while engineers considered possible problems with the cabin pressure in the crew module, and soon established that there was nothing to fear. Then, at T-minus-five minutes, the count was interrupted again as one private airplane and then another were spotted flying into restricted airspace near the Kennedy launching area.

The liftoff seemed trouble-free, until the examination of video recordings revealed that a piece of metal seemed to break loose and hit the nozzle of the shuttle's center engine. Investigators were trying to find out if it was indeed the parachute panel -- a piece of waffle-textured aluminum 18 inches wide, 22 inches long and 1.7 inches thick -- that fell off.

'ɺt this point, we know of no impact on the mission,'' Mr. McMonagle said of the problem.

One of the most important maneuvers of the mission is to come on the fourth day. The Discovery astronauts plan to release a small satellite called Spartan for two days of observations of the Sun's corona, or outer atmosphere, and its effects on the space environment throughout the solar system. The satellite is to be retrieved before the shuttle returns to Earth. Landing is scheduled for Nov. 7 here at the Kennedy center.

Watch the video: STS 95 09 John Glenn Return to space FD 04 CNN 1998 11 02