John Glenn resumed training for his Mercury flight a few days after New Year’s. Not long after the pre-flight preparations resumed, the launched date was postponed, from January 16 to January 23. While Glenn welcomed this, because it gave him additional training time, the launch was imminent and he felt the intense pressure. In July, 1961, January and the launch had seemed to be a long way off. Now they were imminent and the pressure seemed to increase by the day. January 23 came and went with no launch, much to the frustration of Glenn, and the mob of reports, who had come from all over the world to cover the mission. So did January 27. As Glenn got off the elevator at the base of the gantry, Chris Kraft was waiting at for him.
“Chris,” said a surprised Glenn, “is everything all right?”
“No,” said Kraft. “It’s your wife.” Kraft and Glenn got into the transfer van which took them back to the block house.
“What happened?” asked Glenn, “what’s wrong with Annie?”
“The Vice President,” said Kraft.
Glenn was confused. “I don’t understand.”
Kraft explained. Without telling anyone, Vice President Johnson had decided to visit Annie Glenn at the family home in Arlington, Virginia, without informing anyone or checking with the NASA Public Affairs Office. Johnson had also insisted that the Life Magazine liason, Loudon Wainright, could not be present during their meeting. Annie had had enough and called Shorty Powers, who in turn called Chris Kraft.
“Whatever you want to do, I will support you 100%,” said Glenn. He put down the phone
“Are you out of your mind?” burst out Jack King. King was the public affairs liaison officer for Mission Control. “You can’t just blow off the Vice President of the United States. You’ll be pulled from the flight rotation.”
Glenn’s hand reflexively balled into a fist. “Listen to me very carefully, Mr. King,” said Glenn angrily. He was suddenly nose to nose with King. “My family has been besieged in my home for the past month. My wife is mobbed by reporters every time she steps out the door. If you want to replace me on this mission, be my guest. NASA will have to hold a press conference to announce its decision. I will hold a press conference to announce mine.”
Later that day, NASA did indeed hold a press conference confirming that the flight had been scrubbed due to weather. It made no mention of the altercation that had occurred afterward regarding Annie’s rebuff of the Vice President.
Two weeks later, NASA announced a new launch date. February 20. In the wake of the build-up to the launch, Glenn took the opportunity to spend a few days at home with his family. He also visited the White House, where President Kennedy questioned him so intently that Glenn offered to come back with models and technical diagrams in order to answer the President’s questions in more detail.
In the mean time, Glenn kept training. While Glenn was continuing to train, others were also trying to cope with the repeated delays. Henri Landwirth, a friend of the astronauts and the owner of Starlite Hotel and the Holiday Inn, had commissioned a colossal Friendship 7 cake, in the shape of the Mercury spacecraft that weighed over 900 pounds. When the January 27 launch attempted had bee scrubbed, he had had to rent a refrigerated truck that ran day and night in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn, to keep it from spoiling. Glenn continued to have run ins with press, which even went so far as to print what it claimed was Glenn’s favourite recipe for turtle soup. This was after he had been seen by a photographer watching a sea turtle lay its eggs early on morning during his run. The story, which eventually appeared in the Miami Herald, resulted in a blizzard of letters from angry environmental groups.
Waiting for the weather to break, or for the engineers to solve one of the innumerable problems that could delay the flight gave Glenn time to think about the question that his daughter had asked him just before Christmas about the dangers of space flight and he placed a call to Leo DeOrsey.
“Leo, I’d like you to try to find me some life insurance.”
“That might be a tall order, John,” said DeOrsey uncertainly. “I doubt that there are actuarial tables for astronauts.”
“Well, do your best,” said Glenn. “If the Life Magazine money will help, then use it.”
“Alright,” said DeOrsey, “let me make some calls.”
Two days later, DeOrsey returned Glenn’s phone call. “I have good news and bad news,” he said. “The good news is that I contacted Lloyds of London, and they quoted me $16,000 for the premium.”
Glenn though he sensed something amiss in the tone of Leo DeOrsey’s voice. “What’s wrong, Leo?”
“I couldn’t bet against you, John,” he said.
“I appreciate the sentiment, Leo,” said Glenn, “but what about Annie and the kids? What if something happens to me?”
“I’ll make sure they are taken care of financially,” said DeOrsey.
“How will you do that?” asked Glenn.
“If something happens during the flight, I’ll write a check for $100, 000.” Leo DeOrsey was as good as his word. Three days later he handed a $100, 000 check to Bill Williams, to be held until it could be returned or needed to be delivered.
I am a 25 year old history and journalism student. I have started this blog so that I can combine my two loves. I also have an interest in movies, especially science-fiction and fantasy, and travel.
View all posts by trlong36