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John Glenn has died (dispatch.com)
797 points by oaf357 on Dec 8, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 152 comments



I grew up next to mission control and many of my neighbors and friends' parents were involved in Mission Control and/or Astronauts or both. Oddly, in the middle of nowhere Texas - Clear Lake. This gave me some interesting run-ins with cosmonauts, astronauts, physicists etc...

I was lucky enough to meet John Glenn on 3 separate occasions.

The first time, I discussed Plutonium 238 and my worries for satellite power given decommissioning of mission critical battery fodder for satellites on earth.

The second time, the viability of a colorblind astronaut.(I have deuteranopia and he explained to me the structure of the consoles and the switching costs of changing out colors and the follow on risk/reward of color confusion).

The third time, how we could keep more funding for NASA scale projects without having to keep offices in 50 different states for political pressure. He said he could go on for hours about this.

All 3 times, he was sharp, inspiring, and a pleasure to be around.

Today, humanity has lost the Lee Iacocca of Space.

One of my favorite quotes by him that I think is incredibly relevant right now: "The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds and to advance the kind of science, math and technology education that will help youngsters take us to the next phase of space travel."


> humanity has lost the Lee Iacocca of Space

Perhaps you could explain the comparison to a somewhat famous car company executive ...


It's a dated reference, but I can shed some light on this. I'm from Detroit and my dad worked at Chrysler basically his entire adult life. Lee Iacocca was the rockstar of the automotive world before Elon Musk hit the scene. As an exec and former engineer at Ford, he spearheaded the development of the mustang among many other accomplishments.

After leaving Ford, I guess he needed a challenge and took on the ordeal of turning around Chrysler, which was about to go out of business in the late '70's. He personally secured cash from Congress for a bailout (Yeah I know, this sounds familiar). In the 80's after turning Chrysler around, he would appear in commercials saying something like "You can't find a better car. If you do, buy it." Since he saved my Dad's job and livelihood, he kinda worshipped him and that reverence trickled down a bit to me.

EDIT: I do find it a bit sad that fewer of us work for CEO's that we personally look up to. This is probably one major factor in what inspires the entrepreneurial spirit in many of us. The main reason that I want to work for an Elon Musk company is that I'm tired of being a cynic in a post-modern world and want to be a part of a vision greater than 140 characters or self-driving cars.

Unexpected personal reflection: As I'm writing this, I'm beginning to empathize with the coal miners and manufacturing workers who believe in Trump. I know people aren't fans of bailouts and as a student of Economics I'm generally opposed to them as well. However, The automotive industry was and is still so deeply intertwined with the fabric of Detroit and Southeast Michigan in general that losing those companies, once the shining example of American manufacturing exceptionalism, would be a crippling blow to the collective consciousness of all the residents there.You don't simply see it as some efficient restructuring and reallocation of capital if they go out of business. Those automotive roots run deep and when Chrysler faced bankruptcy again after the financial crisis, even though he was retired at the time, we both felt like an extension of ourselves was on life support. If it had cratered, it would've been a massive blow to our psyche similar I guess to how one would feel if an army had razed your city. When an industry is so closely related to your community, it becomes a part of your identity. Chrysler basically allowed for me to attend an elite private high school and university. In principle, I still disagree with trying to revive the coal industry (that American manufacturing strength is dead is complete fiction. I would argue that the USA is still the leader in global manufacturing because it's done without polluting the shit out of the environment), but I guess now I'm willing to listen to their side with an open ear and am open to some sort of environmentally responsible compromise.

That's the thing about heroes, even in death they can inspire change. Godspeed, John Glenn.


This was a great explanation. I am curious. Was that high school Cranbrook?


A vision greater than self driving cars?


Self-driving vehicles are a cool and novel goal, but it's just not inspirational. I saw the first prototype on campus 17-18 years ago. Honestly, my thoughts on them are similar to those on nuclear fusion...basically like "Shit man, they're not ubiquitous yet." in that it always seemed more of an eventuality, not a bold, unexpected step forward.

Inspirational things are usually illogical and are more rooted in emotion and ideas formed during childhood and the myths we internalize at that age. It will save a great number of lives, decrease commute times and be beneficial for the environment for sure. But it will mostly be of benefit to people with the highest standard of living on the globe.

Honestly, I was looking forward to a world in which technology enabled a world to become more classically liberal, a world that encouraged the free flow of goods, services, capital, culture, people, and ideas where a person's identity isn't so wrapped up in the idea of the nation-state and the stupid games they play. So yeah, this year has been kind of dissapointing. If you can't tell, I'm a huge Star Trek.

For example, John Glenn's effort towards nuclear non-proliferation leading to global disarmament (save for a few emergency nukes...never know when an asteroid could be headed this why and we need to send the world's best fracking crew...Hollywood should totally do a sequel with frackers and it'd get the thumbs up from Trump)

I digress. Society in general don't find automonous cars inspirational. there was no ticker tape parade when Uber completed its first ride in PA. And if there were a live stream, not many people were interested. Although fundamentally it is a human accomplishment, it's not that exciting to see a machine run code.


While I do see what you're saying, I still have my doubts as to the root cause of society's apathy. In my opinion, it's not a lack of inspirational work being done, it's a narcissism and detachment from community, that drives the attention towards personal goals rather that the goals of the community.

I think self driving cars are a MAJOR leap forward for man kind, and something we all SHOULD be having parades for. If it reaches the market, it will be the most widespread, and profound application of artificial intelligence that mankind has developed yet. Without argument, it will be the first time a machine learning application has saved lives on a grand scale. It may well mark the dawn of the Machine Learning age, welcoming in a new era where software transcends the trivial 'app' in a big, practical way. Think about that.

We can argue all day about why people aren't inspired by self driving cars. In truth, there are probably hundreds of reasons. But, if you ask me they are extremely exciting and invigorating. Uber's PA event was one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.


> I think self driving cars are a MAJOR leap forward for man kind, and something we all SHOULD be having parades for. If it reaches the market, it will be the most widespread, and profound application of artificial intelligence that mankind has developed yet. Without argument, it will be the first time a machine learning application has saved lives on a grand scale. It may well mark the dawn of the Machine Learning age, welcoming in a new era where software transcends the trivial 'app' in a big, practical way. Think about that

I agree completely with this line of thought, but humans aren't wired that way. The rise in ubiquity of machine-learning powered software will improve our lives greatly....and do so mostly behind the scenes while the average person isn't giving it much thought. In fact, unfortunately, eventually and inevitably, even with self-driving cars, people will still find new reason for road rage.

> We can argue all day about why people aren't inspired by self driving cars. In truth, there are probably hundreds of reasons.

There's really just one. People aren't interested in watching machines execute code. For example, would you really want to watch two AI's play LoL, DotA2, or chess against each other. Many kids aren't going to watch. Similarly, I've learned this the hard way. Perhaps 95-98% of users will not care about how you implemented an app even if you revolutionize the field of Algo's and Data Structures. They will just look at it and say, I guess it's pretty fast, but I really like this parallax when you scroll down.

Even though I found it hugely inspirational that we made an object that has now left the solar system (and it was created 40 years ago with all the processing power a modern, ChiFi pedometer), most people are only going to find it inspirational if a human leaves the solar system.

For better or worse, that's what we prioritize.


John Glenn was an engineer.

Lee Iacocca was an engineer.

Elon Musk is not an engineer.


Elon Musk saw that the online world needed a secure payment/banking system. Founded X which eventually morphed into Paypal, grows to be one of the biggest online payment processor. Problem solved.

Saw that we humanity needed to transition from fossil fuels if we are to combat global warming, targets the transportation sector and bam, Tesla, is born produces the first highway legal serial production all-electric car to use lithium-ion battery cells, and the first production all-electric car to travel more than 200 miles (320 km) per charge. Basically, the first practical all electric vehicle. Problem solved.

Saw that humanity needed to switch from fossil fuels for home energy. Devised the original idea for Solar City, which his cousins implemented ( and he eventually took over). Certainly, there may not even be a main player in this story as this problem is evident. However, was instrumental in this effort. Solar is now on par with domestic natural gas production for cost efficiency and will likely supplant it moving forward (Natural gas companies operate on very thin margins)(I'd say it's more efficient if one factors in the negative externality of fossil fuel into the efficiency comparison). Problem solved.

Saw that if humanity is to survive, we need to be multi-planetary. No one else is seriously doing it. He forms SpaceX and likely in the next 10 years will put the first human on another planet and has also devised an economical interplanetary travel network Problem solved (To be continued).

An engineer at its core is one who solves problems. He seems to have a good track record of solving some of the biggest problems facing all of humanity today. That's a pretty kick ass engineer in my book. Perhaps you don't regard him as such because you think of engineeers at the product or component level. Looking at the trees, you get lost in the forest. He's engineering at a higher level than most.

Also, I called Elon Musk the rockstar of the automotive world.


"he received a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from its College of Arts and Sciences. Musk moved to California to begin a PhD in applied physics and materials science at Stanford University"

maybe not, but pretty technical.

A better example of a non-tech CEO of a tech company is Jack Ma, who was an English teacher.


Yet, "In order to be an engineer, it is not enough to be an engineer." Jose Ortega y Gasset.

No profession has a monopoly on competence.


He made a monstrously inaccurate statement about the area of a solar panel and the power output of an area equivalent with the surface area of a nuclear power plant. I thought he was well versed in how utilities and energy work, but this made me see him in a different light.

https://youtu.be/UKT2tKmVk6g?t=16m52s

I at one time thought Elon Musk was monstrously good engineer, but I found out he was a physicist recently.


> but I found out he was a physicist recently

The horror.


I get upvoted for being an engineer, but downvoted for pointing out an actual inaccuracy. Go figure.


Man, in what world is Clear Lake TX out in the middle of nowhere??


In the '90s it was ... sort of out there. Especially getting all the way down NASA Rd1---it was at least 20 minutes combined getting down 45 and out to JSC. A lot of the astronauts lived in El Lago, Seabrook, etc., which definitely were way out there.


If only it took 20 minutes now.

I used to visit JSC several times a year in the 80's and 90's ... until they locked it down and opened Space Center Houston. It never seemed that far 'out there' coming from the north side outer loop (610) compared to The Woodlands.

OT but it was a pleasure to be able to park and roam the campus and enter most buildings (including Mission Control) on a self guided tour. Space Center Houston is terrible in comparison.


As kids we used to entertain ourselves on the JSC campus---they had the best junk: old shuttle parts, broken satellite antennas, x-plane canopies; you name it! I liked being able to roam around and just check out old mercury modules, etc. I know that this stuff needs to be maintained; thus, the ostensible reason for Space Center; but, that curated faux experience is not the NASA which inspired me.


Did you create an account just to make this comment???


Oops.


Oh, you meant the other guy


if I could give more upvotes, I would. I'm also prepared to take the pain of infinite downvotes for this "non-ideal" comment of mine. thank you for this.


"As I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind - every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder." - John Glenn.

RIP sir.


That's a great and hilarious quote.


A different version of that comment is often attributed to Alan Shepard (first American in space). Any connection to Glenn seems to be apocryphal from shortly after 9/11 http://www.snopes.com/rumors/glenn.asp


Still applies to most software. Nuts.


This deserves a black bar (IMO)

John Glenn was very influential on me as a student. He gave a talk at my high school about how learning as much as you could prepared you for the unexpected. He certainly put that to the test (as all of the astronauts then and now) do. The stakes are high, the resources limited, and time for a solution is finite. God speed John Glenn.


What's a black bar?


It's a black line 1px high at the top of the page above the orange bar. Here's a snapshot of it from 2011:

https://web.archive.org/web/20111006184954/http://news.ycomb...


Correction: it's 5px high


Blacking out the orange bar at the top of the site. Traditionally done in mourning.


You know, I was wondering what site. Perhaps, it's some sort of an orange thing on the launch site (of rockets). The sudden context switch of parent comments talking about astronauts got me :-)

I've never seen the orange bar being blacked out recently (since I've been a member).

Glenn does seem like a swell guy!

Edit: fix typos


Thanks.


I agree.


I agree.


I second the black bar.


Thirded


Fourthed.


[flagged]


I recommend you review the Hacker News Guidelines (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html). "Anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity" is on topic. John Glenn clearly fits into the group.


The black bar has usually been reserved for noteworthy deaths in the programming and technology fields, and it's always been at the discretion of the HN staff to decide which death deserves it and which doesn't - and most seem not to.

Discussions around people's lives, regardless of their field, are what create worthwhile tributes. The black bar is just vanity.


A very confusing point badly made.


John Glenn was one of my boyhood heroes. I remember as a young boy listening to reports of him taking off and making those three orbits of the earth.

My uncle gave me a crystal radio shaped like Glenn's Friendship 7 capsule that ignited a fierce passion into radio that led to a ham radio license and a lifelong interest in science.

It was a time in America when the future seemed endless, anything was possible. A lot has changed since then but that sense of optimism has never completely left me and may be the reason despite one crash and burn that I am still an entrepreneur. Still hopeful for a better future.


>It was a time in America when the future seemed endless, anything was possible.

Somewhere between "We choose to go to the moon" and "if you see something, say something" we traded all of our hope and optimism for fear and suspicion.

I'm just hoping for hope again.


That's a really simplistic way of thinking about it.

The red scare continued through the late 1950s (and the cold war continued for decades -- there was no lack of fear and suspicion).

John Glen orbited the earth in 1962, in the middle of all this.

The nation doesn't wake up, flip and coin and decide it's either optimistic or fearful one day. You can be scared of some things and optimistic about others. Or both at the same time. Or some people are optimistic, and others have more fears.

It's complicated, but pithy quotes ("I'm just hoping for hope again") are stupid.


I appreciate this comment, but I disagree with your statement that "pithy quotes are stupid". Perhaps nothing has changed, but it certainly seems that pessimism, worry, and fear are far more prevalent than optimism now, so I see nothing wrong with a hope for an increase in widespread hope and optimism.


> John Glen orbited the earth in 1962, in the middle of all this.

And almost entirely because of it; the U.S. space program didn't evolve independently of, or in tension with, the fear of Communism.


Yeah. Having a common fear or enemy is often the _cause_ for optimism and rallying around common goals. It's stupid to suggest that fear prevents us from striving for great things.


Chill out man, no need to be so judgemental (in reference to you calling things stupid)


> Somewhere between "We choose to go to the moon" and "if you see something, say something" we traded all of our hope and optimism for fear and suspicion.

We chose to go to the moon because we were afraid (afraid of Communism, afraid of the Russians, afraid of the Cold War).

That doesn't mean great things can only come about as the result of fear and suspicion, but it's not like the Space Race was a great example of hope and optimism in contrast with fear and suspicion.


In one of his essays, David Brin attempts to define the difference between science fiction and fantasy as one of optimism vs pessimism. In fantasy, the characters reminisce about the good old days, when there was a golden age. In sci-fi, the characters believe that the golden age is in their future-- that things are going to get better.

I wish we still lived in a science fiction world.


Would you mind talking about your passion for radio? It's not something I've really thought about (beyond a general, taking-it-for-granted "hey this is handy, I'm glad we have this in our repertoire of technology"), so I'd love to hear about your love.


Ham radio isn't just a single hobby but multiple hobbies under a single banner. Initially I was interested in building things, to go from a handful of parts and a roll of solder to a completed device.

Then I got interested in communicating, talking to people all over the world. With the net that seems perfectly normal, but it was a different world back then. I made friends from all over, some of whom came to visit me.

For a while I got really interested in contesting which is a competition to talk to as many people as you can in a single weekend. That progressed when I got to Michigan State into working with others in a special group of contesting called multi-multi (multiple operators with multiple transmitters) where you'd work with a group of people at one location. This produced some difficult technical challenges and helped me become a leader.

After school I became interested in the public service aspect where hams provide communications during disasters or events like marches or marathons.

I think my original interest in communication is why I purchased a modem for my first computer and became fascinated with BBS's and later the net. Really its just another form of communication.


For me, the best thing about ham radio are the connections you make with people - in that ham radio enthusiasts are self selected. They seem to be an eclectic bunch of resourceful, witty, kind, and clever people.


I've always wanted to know what they talk about via radio.


You can listen to amateur radio without a license, you just can't transmit. Pick up a Baofeng 2 meter unit from Amazon and find your local repeater. Or, find a local Ham club and I'm sure they'll talk to you for hours about it! :-)


In my experience, weather and baseball. And of course ham radio.


Kind of a weird comment. Is this a writing prompt, or do you really talk to people in the "I'd love to hear about your love" manner?

Radio is awesome because of how awesome it is. Check out the new startup, google.com, if you want to find some more material about why.


For me, it's a joy to hear people talk about the things they are passionate about. I go out of my way to ask people to just talk about the things that interest them. I would be surprised if a majority of HN users did not have similar feelings.


Do you not ask people why they like things that they're excited or jazzed about? 'Cause I mean--I do all the time. (I also ask about things people hate. You learn a lot from those two questions.)


@photogrammetry You could've been kinder. If that seemed "weird" to you, You could've just ignored it and moved on, as the comment was harmless.

PS:Not to preach, but just saying.


Your first line is basically the same as my motivation--"Why on earth would you be interested in that?" I want to understand people and the world around me better. There's a lot out there that I know nothing about, and I like hearing about passionate peoples' interests. I love it when people get excited about the things they love, because they're also often excited to share that joy with others.


He was an amazing man.

Fun fact: the most popular years for babies named Glenn and John was 1962 and 1963 respectively [0,1], and you can see a little spike in births for both around the time John Glenn orbited the earth. Glenn entered the NASA test program without the required degree in a scientific field. He was the oldest man to fly in space, at age 77, and one of the last people to receive a ticker tape parade (the last one to receive multiple ticker-tape parades)

IMHO if he qualified as one of a handful of people to get a ticker-tape parade, he definitely qualifies for a black bar.

[0] https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=first+name+john

[1] https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=first+name+glenn


>He was the oldest man to fly in space, at age 77

My (then teenaged) brother had a change to meet John in the early 90s. He asked him, "Why don't you go back to space?" and suggested he go back up if the opportunity presented itself.

We'll never know if that had any bearing on John Glenn's decision to return (maybe he already planned to I don't know), but I like to think it certainly did. Maybe just hearing the idea out loud, even from a teen, made the thought of it less crazy.


I'm saddened to hear this, but it's also not exactly out of the blue given his age.

Godspeed, Sen. (Col.) Glenn. It's an honor to work at your namesake NASA facility.


As a Cleveland-native, I will never forget John Glenn and how his legacy brought honor to the area.


As a Earth-native living half a planet away, I also will never forget what him and other great people have done.


When he went up again in '98, it was another big justification to talk about it in schools. I wasn't alive for Challenger, but this (I was still in elementary school) was another one of those moments I really remember getting me excited about STEM.


RIP.

I have to wonder, these first missions, did the astronauts have any assurance they would make it back to earth? What was it like to say goodbye to family, not knowing if you would return or not.

Am I way off here? Was this mission uncertain or did NASA have reasonable assurances?


You've got to read The Right Stuff[1], it's fantastic. Tom Wolfe paints the ethos of the era perfectly, and if you have any interest in this period, early NASA, or the guys themselves it's a must-read.

I'd also recommend Chuck Yeager's autobiography[2] as another fantastic read that gives you a feel for what life was like for elite test pilots.

1: https://smile.amazon.com/Right-Stuff-Tom-Wolfe/dp/0312427565...

2: https://smile.amazon.com/Yeager-Autobiography-Chuck/dp/05532...


The other classic (and definitely an HN-appropriate book) is "Failure Is Not an Option," which gives an awesome look at the engineering and management challenges they faced from Mercury to Apollo.

https://smile.amazon.com/Failure-Not-Option-Mission-Control/...


I think the best is "Flight" -- the memoir of NASA's first director of mission control

https://www.amazon.com/Flight-My-Life-Mission-Control/dp/052...


The title, it should be disclaimed, is not what the astronauts or flight controllers believed. It's a poor abbreviation of the following:

"No, when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them. We never panicked, and we never gave up on finding a solution."

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_Kranz#.22Failure_is_not_a...


I've read the book, and Kranz definitely says at least once that the phrase "failure is not an option" is a good summary of what the flight controllers believed. Could you perhaps elaborate on what you mean by your comment?


As Kranz lays out in the book (and as indicated in the wiki) "Failure is not an option" was written by the Apollo 13 screenwriters. The original quote was by the FIDO at the time which was adapted for the movie. Kranz has since started using it as it summarizes the idea more succinctly.


I understand. I was asking for an elucidation of the comment that it was "not what the astronauts or flight controllers believed" and is a "poor abbreviation".


Thanks for that link to Gene Kranz's wiki. The guy was a real hero, and an understated one at that.


Absolutely!


Speaking of Chuck Yeager, he's quite active on Twitter and has some really funny responses to random questions people send him.

https://twitter.com/GenChuckYeager

For those that don't know, he is a WWII P-51 Mustang fighter ace and famous test pilot. He was the first pilot to break the speed of sound. Really amazing guy.


Chuck Yeager - 47 Thousand followers

Kayne West - 26 Million

That tells me everything I need to know about Twitter.

Q: @GenChuckYeager How big a deal was it that Hughes flew the spruce goose by himself?

A: Wasn't to me


"The first time I saw a jet I shot it down"


While not a replacement for book, 'The Right Stuff' the movie is a great movie.


I agree, it's one of the most unusual and great movies of the eighties. The book is good, but the movie stands on its own, and while it's factually based on the book, it's quite not the same in spirit.


I also recommend the movie the Right Stuff. I saw the movie as a kid and it was really something inspirational to me at the time. Nice little article from Wired about John Glenn's depiction in the movie. https://www.wired.com/2016/12/john-glenn-became-big-screen-h...


Thanks for sharing these.


While I love 'The Right Stuff,' Tom Wolfe took many liberties with the truth, distorted events, and did not properly interview his subjects. Tom Wolfe himself admits that Alan Shepard hated it.[1] (Shepard accused him of never interviewing the astronauts)

For me, one of Wolfe's most troubling "creative interpretations" is his portrayal of Gus Grissom. He heavily implied that Grissom "screwed up" by taking a prevalent media theory and running with it because Grissom was already dead and couldn't tell his side of the story.

"""

Even after his death, perhaps because he was an easy target and could not defend himself, the public opinion of Gus was still questionable. In the book and the movie, "The Right Stuff," Tom Wolfe portrays Gus as "the goat among the astronauts, a hard-drinking, hard-living type who courts the favors of barmaids with gewgaws he promises to carry into space. He is also held up to the world as a man who screwed up, who panicked, blew the explosive hatch off his capsule and allowed it to sink to the ocean floor after reentry."

Wolfe described the scene at Edwards Air Force Base after Gus's Liberty Bell 7 flight as such: "And at Edwards . . . the True Brothers [test pilots who were not selected for the astronaut program]. . . well, my God, as you can imagine, they were . . . laughing! Naturally they couldn't say anything. But now - surely! - it was so obvious! Grissom had just screwed the pooch!"

Gus Grissom vs. the Media: Victim or Hero?

http://datamanos2.com/apollo1/grissom-media.html

"""

None of this ever happened. NASA's own internal investigations cleared his name and he later led an extremely successful Gemini mission and the ill fated Apollo 1. [2] He was the first member of the Astronaut Corps to fly in space twice and would have arguably led Apollo 11 had it not been for the fire. [3]

Tom Wolfe wanted to write a dramatic story about a group of people explicitly chosen for being preternaturally calm. So he resorted to creative devices (there are "composite characters" within the book) and fiction to spice things up.

If you'd like to get an accurate view of space history, then I'd suggest these books by astronauts and flight controllers.

Jim Lovell's 'Apollo 13' https://www.amazon.com/Apollo-13-James-Lovell/dp/0618619585 (which takes a very interesting systemic approach to the failure and views it from the perspective of the engineering and other ground crew as well as the astronauts)

Gene Kranz's 'Failure Is Not an Option' https://www.amazon.com/Failure-Not-Option-Mission-Control/dp...

Michael Collins' 'Carrying the Fire' https://www.amazon.com/Carrying-Fire-Astronauts-Michael-Coll... (he wrote a part of this in orbit around the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin made their historic landing)

Eugene Cernan's 'The Last Man on the Moon' https://www.amazon.com/Last-Man-Moon-Astronaut-Americas/dp/0...

Shepard, Glenn, Cooper, Grissom, Schirra, Carpenter, and Slayton's 'We Seven' https://www.amazon.com/Seven-Astronauts-Themselves-Scott-Car... (written in 1962 by the astronauts themselves)

John Young's 'Forever Young' https://www.amazon.com/Forever-Young-Life-Adventure-Space/dp...

Together I find these books to be much better than any other compilation, because they were written by the people who were actually there. Some are technical. Some aren't. A few are even poetic. But together they represent a thorough look at the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.

[1] "In other words they were like Everyman—except for Alan Shepard. He hated the whole thing, down to the paper it was printed on."

http://www.chipublib.org/interview-with-tom-wolfe/

[2] http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/11/with-every-splashdown...

[3] According to Deke Slayton the "chief astronaut" who made flight selections, Grissom was on track to be a moonwalker. He was the key decision maker who pushed Armstrong forward as the first person on the moon.

http://www.umiacs.umd.edu/~oard/apollo/poss_moonwalkers.html


They had five nines safety. Well, in the sense that Wernher von Braun asked each of his lieutenants in turn whether they could think of any reason the rocket wouldn't work, and the reply went "nein, nein, nein, nein, nein". Wish I could remember the source of this joke.


They all knew the risks - they were very thoroughly trained in both the science, and the engineering that went into their spacecraft - as well as their many deadly failure modes.

If that didn't drive the point home, the occasional Soviet space disaster certainly would have.


The occasional American disaster made it crystal clear.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_1


That doesn't entirely count as a space disaster as it was in training.

More importantly, everyone of them expected 'You're going to burn-up and die in launch/re-entry/all your air vents in space/your engines will misfire, and you won't return home' as big, serious risks of their work.

Nobody expected 'You're going to burn-up and die as a result of getting into a closed room, and pushing a few buttons', to be in their top-ten expected causes of death. Planning around unknown unknowns, and all that.


Important to note that the "closed room" was the Command Module on top of a Saturn launch vehicle.


Yes, but AFAIK, the Saturn V was not full of fuel. Given that, the fact that the module was on top of the rocket didn't change the risk profile much. The fire could have happened, even if the command module was in a garage.


They died in a space craft. You think the other Apollo crews were like "Whew, at least it was in training!" and brushed it off?

Going to space involves strapping yourself into a tiny capsule on top of something that's filled with explosives. There's nothing safe about it.


Sure, but it wasn't just any room.

As a sidenote, it wasn't a Saturn V.


There are rumors that the Soviet space program actually sent several humans to space before Yuri Gagarin became the first man to be sent into space and make it back alive (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Cosmonauts). The USSR was known to send cosmonauts on known doomed missions, for instance Gagarin tried to volunteer for one mission knowing the government wouldn't risk killing a national -- and world -- hero and hoped they would cancel the mission: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soyuz_1.


As per the article, these rumours are unsubstantiated. There are also rumours that America never landed on the moon.

The USSR was not making a habit of mindlessly sending cosmonauts on certain-to-be-doomed missions. They did have immense political pressure to make a launch on time, and hope for the best. Note that of the many design defects Soyuz-1 had, only one of them killed Komarov. Almost everything else worked out 'fine'. They wouldn't have sent him if he had no chance of returning alive.

Soyuz-1 was a wake-up call that this culture wasn't good enough.


They were all test pilots, they knew what the chances were.


I'm sure it was presumed to be "not good" as a baseline, and coming back in one piece was a bonus.


Pretty much. Which is the daily life of a test pilot (especially at the time, some planes were absolute death traps). They knew the engineers were trying to make things as safe as possible, but they were still sitting atop giant missiles full of stuff going kabloey if you looked at it wrong: Glenn's first orbit was launched by an Atlas LV-3B, a modified and saferized derivation of the Atlas D ICBM powered by RP1/LOX.

Well to be fair RP1/LOX is fairly tame when compared with H2/LOX or Hydrazine derivatives.


It's like Chuck Yeager says, any landing where you survive is a great landing, and any landing where the plane can fly again is exceptional.

He flew a firecracker over the speed of sound. That thing could have easily exploded when it hit that velocity due to unpredicted aero loading.

Test pilots are made of sterner stuff than just about everyone else on the planet, but they're not ignorant of the risks.


They're still quite uncertain. The most recent time somebody didn't make it back was less than 14 years ago, and it'll happen many times in the future unless there's a sudden halt to manned spaceflight.

What's really interesting to me are how little they really knew about the basics. Stuff like the rocket and the heat shield are pretty obvious, but for example they had no way to be sure that humans could even survive being in orbit at all. They sent animals first so they had some confidence, but they couldn't really be sure until they tried it.


I would be very surprised if _any_ astronaut feels assured they will come home. I'm sure they don't talk about it much, but there's got to be that little voice telling them there's a chance...

And yet, they still go.


History is full of people knowingly taking such risks.

For example, my father was a B17 navigator. 80% of the group he went to England with became casualties. He was convinced he would not survive his tour due to the inevitable mathematics of the B-17 loss rate.

But he went anyway.


That is an interesting thing to think about. By contrast, I witnessed a young person who was afraid to pull over to the side of the road to help a stranger with a broken down car. I know these two are not a perfect comparison, but I can't help but think our culture has changed since then. That's just intuition -- could be right or wrong.


I just read that Glenn flew 149 combat missions, including ones where he got his plane back home all shot up. He had no shortage of bravery and willingness to take huge risks.


John Glenn was known to his flying buddies as 'old iron ass' for his ability to always bring back a shot up plane safely. He took heavy hits to his aircraft a dozen times.

He kept a Cessna, flying it until his 90th birthday.


I think they were "reasonably" certain everything would work, sure. They weren't going to throw people and equipment up there on a guess. But that doesn't mean it wasn't still risky.


They did not, and that is precisely what makes them heroic.


Thats a good question. I would be curious what they really felt the odds were at that point in time. There definitely had to be uncertainty, but he was willing to take those risks, and I think that makes him all the braver.


The actual death rate among astronauts flying on the Space Shuttle was ~4%.

Any fair assessment would have put the odds of death on a pre-shuttle flight to be at least that.


At the time of the Mercury program, the career fatality rate of military fighter pilots was around 20%, without any help from the enemy. NASA lost four astronauts flying T-38 trainers. An occasional launch didn't raise the risk much for people in that business.


You are not off base. The first Russian cosmonaut in space died on reentry. Apollo one burnt on the pad. Apollo 13, well, it got a movie.

And that's just of the top of my head, sitting in traffic.


You're thinking of the first Soyuz flight, Soyuz-1.

Prior to Soyuz, six cosmonauts flew on the Vostok, all of them returning to Earth safely.


No, the first cosmonaut was Yuri Gagarin.


OK, I looked it up. Aren't red lights wonderful. It was Vladimir Komarov in '67.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Komarov


Komarov's was particularly sad. He knew he was going to die, and railed at the incompetence of the program engineers during the descent phase that he knew he wouldn't survive. The fact that the main problem was that the parachute straps had been hooked up wrongly was the final (preventable) insult to a brave man.

"Gagarin wrote a 10-page memo and gave it to his best friend in the KGB, Venyamin Russayev, but nobody dared send it up the chain of command. Everyone who saw that memo, including Russayev, was demoted, fired or sent to diplomatic Siberia. With less than a month to go before the launch, Komarov realized postponement was not an option. He met with Russayev, the now-demoted KGB agent, and said, "I'm not going to make it back from this flight."

Russayev asked, Why not refuse? According to the authors, Komarov answered: "If I don't make this flight, they'll send the backup pilot instead." That was Yuri Gagarin. Vladimir Komarov couldn't do that to his friend. "That's Yura," the book quotes him saying, "and he'll die instead of me. We've got to take care of him." Komarov then burst into tears.

On launch day, April 23, 1967, a Russian journalist, Yaroslav Golovanov, reported that Gagarin showed up at the launch site and demanded to be put into a spacesuit, though no one was expecting him to fly. Golovanov called this behavior "a sudden caprice," though afterward some observers thought Gagarin was trying to muscle onto the flight to save his friend. The Soyuz left Earth with Komarov on board.

Once the Soyuz began to orbit the Earth, the failures began. Antennas didn't open properly. Power was compromised. Navigation proved difficult. The next day's launch had to be canceled. And worse, Komarov's chances for a safe return to Earth were dwindling fast.

All the while, U.S. intelligence was listening in. The National Security Agency had a facility at an Air Force base near Istanbul. Previous reports said that U.S. listeners knew something was wrong but couldn't make out the words. In this account, an NSA analyst, identified in the book as Perry Fellwock, described overhearing Komarov tell ground control officials he knew he was about to die. Fellwock described how Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin called on a video phone to tell him he was a hero. Komarov's wife was also on the call to talk about what to say to their children. Kosygin was crying."


Where are your story and quotes from? The quotes aren't on the Wikipedia page linked above. I'm not doubting it, I'd just like to read more.


I got that excerpt from here: http://io9.gizmodo.com/5791437/what-really-happened-to-cosmo...

Not sure how valid Gizmodo is as a source, but I have heard many variations of that similar story over the decades.


If you ever get a chance go to Washington DC Air and Space Museum and find the Friendship 7 which is right at the main entrance. John Glenn literally flew around the Earth in space in a vehicle the size of a refrigerator. It is so staggering. The man is a legend.


That's the last of the Original Seven from the Mercury program.


Godspeed, John Glenn....


I found out this week that John Glenn never actually heard that said. He was listening on a different mission frequency.


Surprised the article didn't mention it, but he was the last living member of the Mercury 7.


Sad news. My dad (a fast jet pilot) took us to Florida, from the UK, to watch him go up in 1998.

I didn't really know who he was at the time but it's not often I've seen my dad look up (no pun intended) to someone. Left an impression on me and is probably no small part of the reason my own 4 year old son was running round with a rocket and a model astronaut ("Tim Peake") this morning.

RIP.


He was great in one episode of Frasier.


I couldn't believe they actually got him. Those last couple of seasons had some really quality guest appearances.

(Also, all episodes of Frasier are great...)


"a remarkably healthy life spent almost from the cradle with Annie, his beloved wife of 73 years, who survives."

His marriage lasted longer than global average life expectancy! Truly a remarkable man.


Those who haven't heard about him should watch "When We Left Earth", a fantastic documentary miniseries about NASA.

He was one of the many NASA astronauts interviewed.


We really should leave Earth more often...


I wish I had something profound, but all I have is the VHS I taped over Power Rangers to see the first senior citizen in space, along with the coverage taking about his historic orbits. I do what is amazing is with all our advances, all we seem to do is chunk metal into orbit. Still, he and his cohort have inspired many to do what I cannot, so perhaps I will someday see another space milestone.


Perhaps not totally on-topic, but he was also hilarious and charasmatic, as evidenced by his guest appearance on Frasier. I knew his name when I saw the episdoe years ago, but his charm got me to read much more about him.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vO4iNhaQms0


Another of my childhood heroes is gone. I was 8 years old when Glenn went up into space and I still remember the black and white images of the launch, landing, and parades that ensued. I've been obsessed with space and its exploration ever since. Glenn is truly an American hero in every sense of the word.


I lived in the Imperial Valley for a few years, from the way they talk about John Glenn I thought he was born and raised there.

Nope, he's from Ohio. He passed over the valley (El Centro, specifically, IIRC) when he re-entered the atmosphere, it was just a claim to fame to attract tourists to the middle of nowhere.


To live half the live that man did is to live a hell of a live.

Godspeed.


People like John Glenn are the reason why I became infatuated with the space program and STEM. He showed the heights humanity could reach by using science and knowledge to become masters of our own destiny instead of victims of nature and fate. Before personal computers, before the Internet, before cellphones, humans landed on the moon & live streamed it to 600 million people. EDIT: I feel the same way for artists like H.R. Giger, William Gibson, James Cameron, and Neal Stephenson. It's become fashionable for many to deride the value of a non-STEM education. But if it weren't for them and their creation of the cyberpunk ethos/genre and tech-noir, I'd most likely be working at a bank or a hedge fund in a decidely non-technical role.

I also highly commend and greatly respect him for his efforts in nuclear non-proliferation. I imagine when you've seen earth from the view he had, you can't help seeing how small our differences actually are. That said, he wasn't perfect. His testimony in favor of excluding women from the astronaut program kept them from going on a mission until the 80's. To his credit, by the 1970's he had changed his mind and began supporting a female astronaut (Judith Resnick...interestingly she was recruited into the program by none than Lt. Uhura/Nichelle Nichols ) in her endeavors to join the astronaut program. Ultimately and unfortunately, she was a member of the ill-fated Challenger crew. Glenn gave a touching and inspirational speech at her memorial service that is worth reading: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/about/memorial.html

Off topic rant: As I hear this news, I'm reminded of the whole Buzz Aldrin dustup. While I'm no advocate of violence, I was inspired when he decked that looney conspiracy theorist who claimed the moon landings were faked. Despite the fact that you can literally shine lasers on the pieces of spacecraft left on the Moon and see the reflections, there are still those forces of ignorance who refuse to accept reality even as it stares them right in the eye. Most people in his position and especially at his age would simply try to avoid that confrontation and be content to let charlatans spread their destructive, nonsensical fictions. John Glenn was not that man. For some reason, that incident is what truly sticks out in my mind about him and I always associate him with this image: http://www.themarysue.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/3779149... It's probably because I associate him with being the last of a dying breed, a modern hero in an increasingly cynical, post-modern society.


as your body lay here on earth, your soul has touched the stars.

thanks for spending time with us.

rest in peace.


Damn you, 2016. :-(


RIP to a true boss.


[Removing, comment was about someone else, sorry]


Do you maybe have him confused with someone else? John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth, but he wasn't on any of the Apollo missions.


You're right, I do.


I was born three days after his flight. There was a large upsurge in the names "John" and "Glenn" for newborn males, which I somehow escaped...


I think he deserves a black bar if anyone does.


I certainly wont complain if we do put up a black bar for Glenn, but at the same time I feel like the black bar should represent a death of someone who directly contributed or was actively a part of the hacker community. While Glenn was immensely inspirational, he never really felt like a part of who we are.


I couldn't (respectfully) disagree more. He has inspired a generation of us, myself included.

My grandmother used to lead the Indianapolis Aero Club and somehow managed to get him as a speaker. My parents made the 2ish hour drive up just for me to hear one of my heros, Col John Glenn, talk for ~30 minutes (I was maybe 12-13 at the time?). While I did not ultimately achieve my dream of being an astronaut like him, I did however find my way into aerospace engineering and engineering in general as a result. He really inspired me on to greatness by being so down to earth and matter of fact.

And now I'll say something a bit controversial. The world needs more people like him, and less people like Zuckerberg. While building the next $web_thing or unicorn startup is cool, inspiring an entire generation is a whole lot cooler. Rest in peace John!


It seems weird to "run into" someone from the same area here on HN (I grew up about two hours "down" from Indianapolis) -- it certainly isn't exactly a booming high-tech area!


Also grew up in Indy. We're a nomadic bunch.


Black bars are essentially free; I never got the reason to ration them. While Glenn may not have been a part of the hacker community, he's an international icon of science, technology, and space exploration. I would guess a nontrivial number of people here have been positively influenced by John Glenn, and I'm sure every single person here has at least heard of him. I believe a black bar would be appropriate, as this is the only opportunity that we have to honor his passing.


People like John Glenn are the reason why I became infatuated with the space program and STEM. He showed the heights humanity could reach by using science and knowledge to become masters of our own destiny instead of victims of nature and fate. Before personal computers, before the Internet, before cellphones, humans landed on the moon & live streamed it to 600 million people. I feel the same way for artists like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. It's become fashionable for many to deride the value of a non-STEM education. But if it weren't for them and their creation of the cyberpunk ethos and genre, I'd most likely be working at a bank or a hedge fund in a decidely non-technical role.

I also highly commend and greatly respect him for his efforts in nuclear non-proliferation. I imagine when you've seen earth from the view he had, you can't help seeing how small our differences actually are. That said, he wasn't perfect. His testimony in favor of excluding women from the astronaut program kept them from going on a mission until the 80's. To his credit, by the 1970's he had changed his mind and began supporting a female astronaut (Judith Resnick...interestingly she was recruited into the program by none than Lt. Uhura/Nichelle Nichols ) in her endeavors to join the astronaut program. Ultimately and unfortunately, she was a member of the ill-fated Challenger crew. Glenn gave a touching and inspirational speech at her memorial service that is worth reading: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/about/memorial.html

Off topic rant: As I hear this news, I'm reminded of the whole Buzz Aldrin dustup. While I'm no advocate of violence, I was inspired when he decked that looney conspiracy theorist who claimed the moon landings were faked. Despite the fact that you can literally shine lasers on the pieces of spacecraft left on the Moon and see the reflections, there are still those forces of ignorance who refuse to accept reality even as it stares them right in the eye. Most people in his position and especially at his age would simply try to avoid that confrontation and be content to let charlatans spread their destructive, nonsensical fictions. John Glenn was not that man. For some reason, that incident is what truly sticks out in my mind about him and I always associate him with this image: http://www.themarysue.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/3779149.... It's probably because I associate him with being the last of a dying breed, a modern hero in an increasingly cynical, post-modern society.


John Glenn was a true American hero.

He was a U.S. Marine fighter pilot who flew 59 combat missions over the South Pacific during WWII and 63 combat missions during the Korean War. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism or extraordinary achievement six times! In Korea, he got the nickname "magnet ass" because he attracted so much enemy flak on his missions.

Oh yeah, and then he went on to become a test pilot, the first American to orbit the Earth, a five-term U.S. senator, and the oldest man to ever enter space.

If you're ever looking for someone for your kids to look up to, this is the man.


"At 77, he orbited the Earth with six astronauts aboard shuttle Discovery, once again rendering his body and mind to the study of science, providing insight into how the oldest man ever launched into space held up. Glenn, remarkably fit, became an inspiration once again to mankind."

I teared up at this bit. The right stuff, indeed.


[flagged]


Being enlisted in the military is a job with pay & benefits.

More importantly, this is what Glenn said in response: https://library.osu.edu/documents/ohio-congressional-archive...

Unclear how editing Glenn's own words pays him any respect.




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