The two surviving Mercury astronauts will pay homage to their deceased colleagues: Shepard, Grissom, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper and Deke Slayton.
The seven remain bonded forever.
"We were very competitive and we worked very, very hard," Glenn recalled. "But once somebody had been selected for a flight, you never saw a group get together any tighter than that group to support that flight, and that's just the way it was. That happened that way on every single flight."
They believed strongly in what they were doing, Glenn said.
Once Americans achieved orbit and caught up with the Soviets, "I think people really felt that we really were on the way back, sort of a turning point, I think, in our national psyche," Glenn said.
So it's distressing for Glenn that 50 years after his first spaceflight, America no longer has its own means of getting astronauts to orbit.
Glenn still rues the day in 2004, one year after the Columbia disaster, that President George W. Bush announced the space shuttle program would end in 2010, to be followed by a moon base and eventual Mars expeditions. The lunar idea was shelved by President Barack Obama, and asteroids are the newest targets of opportunity.
In the months leading up to the final shuttle flight last July, Glenn tried, in vain, to persuade Obama to keep the ships flying until a replacement rocket became available.
"It's unseemly to me that here we are supposedly the world's greatest spacefaring nation and we don't even have a way to get back and forth to our own International Space Station," he said.
NASA remains dependent on Russia until U.S. private industry is able to take astronauts to the space station — an estimated five years away.
"The leaders of tomorrow are on the campuses of today," Glenn likes to say about the John Glenn School of Public Affairs. When reminded that the astronauts of tomorrow are, too, he noted: "If we can just get something for them to ride."
Ohio State University: http://glennschool.osu.edu/
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