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John Glenn fever gripping Cape Canaveral — again

Former Sen. John Glenn, left, and Scott Carpenter, right, speak at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Friday.

Associated Press

Former Sen. John Glenn, left, and Scott Carpenter, right, speak at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Friday.

John Glenn fever gripped Cape Canaveral on Friday, just as it did half a century ago when America was on the verge of launching its first man into orbit.

Hundreds of NASA workers jammed a space center auditorium, three days before the 50th anniversary of Glenn's historic flight, to see and hear the first American to circle the Earth. Then journalists got a crack at Glenn, ever patient at describing his momentous flight aboard Friendship 7 and the decades since.

Glenn, 90, was joined at both events by Scott Carpenter, 86, the only other survivor of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, as the weekend of anniversary festivities began.

Glenn said he recollects the flight so often it seems like it took place just a couple of weeks ago. He and Carpenter visited their old launch pad, Complex 14; it was from the blockhouse there that Carpenter called out "Godspeed John Glenn" before the rocket ignited.

The national attention then was "almost unbelievable," Glenn said, adding that he and his colleagues learned to live with the acclaim "or tried to anyway."

The early 1960s were a magical time in Cape Canaveral and adjoining Cocoa Beach, Carpenter said. "Everyone was behind us. The whole nation was behind what we were doing," he said.

Glenn's Friendship 7 capsule circled Earth three times on Feb. 20, 1962. Carpenter followed aboard Aurora 7 on May 24, 1962.

They were the third and fourth Americans to rocket into space. Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom flew short suborbital missions in 1961, the same year the Soviet Union launched two cosmonauts into orbit on separate shots.

Today, Glenn and Carpenter will reunite with more than 100 retirees who worked on Project Mercury. On Monday, the actual anniversary, Glenn will be feted at The Ohio State University; its school of public affairs bears his name.

Glenn said he's uncertain how he'll mark the exact time of liftoff — 9:47 a.m. — come Monday. He admitted sometimes forgetting to mark the precise moment in the past. But not for this golden one, "for sure."

John Glenn fever gripping Cape Canaveral — again 02/17/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 17, 2012 11:11pm]

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