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Friday, Jul 25, 2014
Joe Henderson

Henderson: Astronauts remind us we could use some heroes now

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Published:   |   Updated: October 12, 2013 at 11:25 AM

I don't want to talk about Congress today.

I don't want to think about debt limits, cuts to Social Security, campaign financing, furloughs or anything even close to that. We need a day off from the insanity that passes for politics and leadership in this country.

We need something that reminds us there was a time when America dreamed big and the sky was not the limit.

I want to look at the sky and remember seven men — the Original Seven astronauts, as they were known when introduced to the world in 1959. They had such a swagger, driven to do things that had never been done. Following the death this week of Scott Carpenter, only one of them remains — 92-year-old John Glenn, the first American to orbit our planet.

Since the population of the United States has increased from about 177 million in 1959 to more than 300 million now, a lot of you may not fully grasp what these men meant to our country. Trust me, they were vital.

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We needed heroes, and that's what they were.

You're worried about Washington now, and the mess our so-called leaders are making of things? Back then, people worried the Soviet Union would blow us to bits. We would come to worry about missiles in Cuba. We weren't that far removed from the end of World War II, and the atomic bombs dropped over Japan, or the “conflict” in Korea.

Just four years after we met the Original Seven, the president of our nation would be assassinated.

But I can remember how the nation cheered as one when Alan Shepard sat atop Freedom 7 and became the first American launched into space. Our eyes got wide as Glenn orbited Earth three times.

Carpenter, who was Glenn's backup on that solo flight, uttered those iconic words, “God speed, John Glenn,” as the rocket boosting his Friendship 7 capsule into space left the launch pad at Cape Canaveral.

Carpenter's own ride in Aurora 7 was less than perfect. He landed 250 nautical miles off course because of equipment malfunction or pilot error, depending on which version of history you believe.

None of that mattered as a nation watched transfixed and wondered if he would be found alive. He was eventually spotted sitting in his bright orange raft, just hanging out, cool as could be, bobbing in the Atlantic Ocean about 135 miles northeast of Puerto Rico.

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We have people today who do great things. Scientists make strides every day against diseases that used to be death sentences. Teachers do their best to open young minds. First responders save our back.

But in a different time, Scott Carpenter and the other original astronauts took a nation beyond its limits. Just over seven years after Carpenter's flight, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

Maybe we need to go back to the moon, if only to remind us that this nation once had people who gave us something we could believe. Along the way, maybe we would also find there are people who still can make us proud.

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