Besides reminiscing Friday, Glenn and Carpenter spoke of the future of space travel. When asked by Cabana "given where we've come, where are we going," Carpenter had a one-word response. "Mars." The crowd applauded.
Glenn had more to offer, stressing the importance of exploration as well as scientific research. He criticized the previous administration for promoting lunar bases and Mars travel, but providing no funds, and for canceling the space shuttle program. "A big mistake," he said.
Glenn noted how NASA is relying on the Russians to transport American astronauts to and from the International Space Station, now that the shuttles are retired. That will continue until private U.S. companies have spacecraft ready to fly crews, an estimated five years away.
"What a big change that is from the days when there were the depths of the Cold War ... fueling a lot of the interest in the space program," he said.
Carpenter said he deplores the fact that America seems to have lost its resolve to press ahead in space exploration, as evidenced by NASA's small share of the federal budget.
"I really miss my citizenship that was once in a can-do nation," he said.
Another change in five decades: Glenn pointed out how cellphones have "more computing capacity than anything back at the time when we were flying in '62." Society has become so accustomed to new things, he said, that it will be difficult for NASA to generate the kind of excitement that Project Mercury or Apollo's moonwalks did.
Repeatedly Friday, Glenn and Carpenter paid tribute to their five deceased Mercury colleagues: Shepard, Grissom, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper and Deke Slayton.
"We need five more chairs here," Glenn told the NASA crowd.
The two pioneers received standing ovations.
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