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NEW CONCORD On Monday, Feb. 20, the nation marked a milestone nowhere more anticipated than in the Village of New Concord: The 50th anniversary of John Glenns ascent into space.
On Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn climbed into Friendship 7 at what was then NASAs Cape Canaveral Space Center (now known as the Kennedy Space Center). After a nail-biting countdown, the space capsule was propelled into orbit by an Atlas LV-3B rocket.
By all accounts, Glenn was the only one who wasnt nervous.
He is the type of person who doesnt worry too much, said Rex Hoon, a New Concord native who has known Glenn for almost all of their lives. They were in school together from the first grade into college at Muskingum University.
When he talks about it, he doesnt brag, Hoon said. But we were kind of daredevils.
Annie Glenn always has supported her husbands every endeavor, but that does mean she hasnt had some tense moments, said Jane and Don Castor. Don, who is Annies cousin, recalls those days in 1962 leading up to the eventual launch.
The Castors had taken a trip to Washington, D.C., in January and stayed for a time with Annie.
But NASA postponed the launch numerous times. They had scheduled it to blast off on Jan. 16, but there was a problem with the fuel tanks. So the launch was rescheduled for Jan. 23.
By the time Jan. 23 arrived, problematic weather conditions cropped up and the launch was delayed day after day until Jan. 27 because of the unfavorable weather. On that day, Glenn climbed in the capsule, but, at 20 minutes before launch, the flight director called off the launch. Heavy cloud cover had moved in and the launch was re-scheduled for Feb. 1.
On Jan. 30, however, technicians discovered that a fuel leak had contaminated insulation between the fuel and oxidizing tanks. Once again, the launch was delayed while crews repaired the damage.
The launch was re-schedule for Feb. 15 but, once again, inclement weather moved in and remained until Feb. 19 when conditions finally cleared up.
We were staying with Annie, Jane Castor said. But the launch kept getting cancelled. She would be up and then she would be down. She was like a yo-yo.
The Castors had to return to Ohio not so easy a task.
It was hard to get out of there, Don Castor said. There were so many newsmen around.
But wending past the journalists and paparazzi encamped around the Glenn home, the Castors made their way out and back to Ohio.
The day of the flight, we were here at home, Jane said.
As Friendship 7 orbited the earth, there would be a period when NASA would lose contact with the capsule as it passed on the far side of the earth.
We were wringing our hands then, Don said.
It was a feeling that many New Concord folk experienced.
I just remember watching it on TV and being scared to death when they didnt hear from him, Joan Hoon said.
There was a lot of apprehension, said Mary Jo Moody who lives in New Concord now but who was a home economics teacher in Mt. Vernon at the time of the launch.
It was quite a different era in 1962 when the Cold War was in full swing and people were building fallout shelters in the fear of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. It was such anxieties that, in part, prompted the space program.
But people had mixed feelings, Moody recalls.
They werent real sure if it was worth the cost in money and the [risk to the] lives involved, she said. But we realized that, if we were going to keep up with the Russians, we would have to accept the risk and challenges to get into space.
People were nervous as to the outcome because there had been some malfunctions. Everyone was very relieved when we knew he was safe. And it was a great accomplishment at the time. You have no clue what they went through in preparation for those flights.
People of all ages at the time of the launch have memories of the event, even if some of those memories are hazy.
A lifelong resident of the New Concord area, John Morrow was in the second grade.
I can remember [realizing] that it was a big deal and that we were following it at school, Morrow said. But I cant remember much of the detail, but I sure remember the parade.
Morrow was referring to homecoming parade that the village gave Glenn who was now celebrated as an American hero.
The village waited patiently while the rest of the nation applauded Glenn with parades in Florida, New York City and Columbus.
But, finally, Glenn was able to return in early March to the hometown that always had supported him. The excitement about his achievement was undiminished.
Richard Payne, a young soldier in a National Guard unit that had been activated and deployed to Oklahoma for a year, had been returned to Aberdeen, Md., for some training.
He managed to slip back to New Concord on the weekend of the parade.
I didnt know John Glenn that well, he said. But I knew his parents who had a plumbing store in town.
He remembers the throng of people who had squeezed into the village.
The wife was eight months pregnant at the time, he said. We walked down for the parade ... and just turned around. We watched it on TV.
The Castors said the size of the crowd was almost beyond belief.
There were people on rooftops, people hanging out of trees, Jane said. People were parking as far as three miles out and walking into town.
When youve got 70,000 people in our little town, Don said, thats a crowd.
Glenn received a heros welcome on a scale that had been unseen since the days of Charles Lindbergh.
(EDITORS NOTE John and Annie Glenn continue to return to their hometown periodically for visits with friends and family and to meet with the staff and volunteers of the John and Annie Glenn Historic Site. Glenn supports the Site housed in his boyhood home as an educational tool for teaching that portion of American history that has unfolded in the span of his lifetime.)