Earlier this month, a beloved American astronaut, engineer, veteran and United States Senator passed away. John Glenn was one of the “Mercury Seven”, a group of astronauts chosen by NASA – partly to determine whether human beings could survive air travel.
His accolades are far-reaching and numerous – he was the first American to orbit the Earth, the fifth person in space, he was a fighter pilot in WWII and Korea, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he won a Senate seat in Ohio where he served for a quarter of a century, he became the oldest person to fly in space, the list goes on.
What I found intriguing about Glenn was the following quote:
I guess the question I'm asked the most often is: "When you were sitting in that capsule listening to the count-down, how did you feel?" Well, the answer to that one is easy. I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts -- all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.
One can’t help but read this and smile. It’s absolutely daunting to imagine sitting in a NASA capsule about to head into space – but reading about Glenn this week, I found his take on the most stressful and dire scenarios to be refreshing. Two million parts in one little space capsule, all for the purpose of orbiting the earth in the 1960s. The Mercury Seven went through a rigorous recruiting process to land on the final 7 of its first group of astronauts. President Eisenhower insisted they be test pilots. There were space, size and age limitations, partly due to the small size inside the spacecraft. They were subjected to IQ tests, physical exams, doses of castor oil – almost half of one round of candidates failed or dropped out after the first phase of exams. Glenn persevered, and after all of that – the cost of two million parts are what he thought of in his supreme moment as an astronaut.
Another, more typical quote from Glenn:
I suppose the one quality in an astronaut more powerful than any other is curiosity. They have to get some place nobody's ever been.
This year, we honor many of our beloved scientists, actors, educators, scientists, musicians, and world leaders who have passed away over the course of the year. John Glenn is one of them, and a reminder that curiosity and humor can be a pathway to success. At Impact Network, we seek to find and nurture those curious minds in our communities in rural Zambia – and hopefully educate them with some of the lightness that Glenn carried with him.