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Intrepid Aging… Astronaut John Glenn Had “The Right Stuff”

In the early morning hours of February 20, 1962, I, like millions of other Americans, breathlessly watched a smiling young man wave at TV cameras and bravely climb into NASA’s small Friendship 7 Mercury capsule to be launched into space for the ride of his life.

The prayers of a nation soared skyward as John Glenn’s rocket lifted off successfully. A safe return to earth for Glenn, in those days, was no sure thing. But during his trip, Glenn accomplished what had seemed imponderable at that time in history. He became the first American to orbit the earth. Five minutes into the flight, John spoke to mission control saying, “Zero G and I feel fine!” Amazingly, he hurtled around the globe three times at an altitude of about 200 miles and a speed of 17,000 miles per hour.

When Glenn’s capsule safely splashed down into the ocean six hours after the launch, the nation breathed a sigh of relief and erupted with applause. This type of pride had not been felt since Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic.

John Glenn’s courage inspired a generation of young Americans to reach New Frontiers. As a result of his esteem, he became a United States Senator in 1974. As the years passed by, the last thing anyone expected was to see John Glenn return to space. But, despite his age of 77, in 1998 John Glenn still had enough of the “right stuff” to pass NASA’s stringent physical and mental flight crew requirements, and he returned to space once again. Of course, he was the oldest man to travel into space.

Imagine, if you can, how it would feel to crawl into the shuttle Discovery, lying on your back for two hours on top of 3 million pounds of fuel before liftoff. Imagine defying extreme gravitational pressure as the shuttle blasts off at 17,000 miles per hour. When the flight ended and reporters asked about how he endured the intense rigors of the flight, Glenn cheerfully answered, “No problem!” During that trip, Glenn demonstrated that space travel is possible for older people. Scientists were amazed to find out that Glenn’s heart rate before, during, and after the flight was slightly better than the average rate of younger astronauts. (As a side note, I was particularly interested in the details of this space mission. I was privileged to have worked as a consultant on the space shuttle main engine program during John Glenn’s flight on the Discovery shuttle.)

When I wrote my book, Octane for the Brain: A Surefire Formula to Boost Your Mental Engine in 2009, I dedicated my book to John Glenn. After all, his bravery and calm confidence inspired me as an adolescent, and his valiant return to space stirred me as an adult. He, above all people, challenged the widespread notion that older people are too frail to attempt challenging endeavors. His flight into space launched a “no-boundaries-aging” mindset shift into a new stratosphere. I wanted to thank John Glenn for that, so I dedicated my book to him. In addition, I gave the first copy of the printing press of the book. His staff arranged for me to take the book to John and Annie Glenn museum in Ohio where John would receive it on his next visit.

What a surprise I received when I opened my mail one month later and found a personal response from John Glenn himself. In his letter he told me he appreciated the dedication as well as the book. Humbly he wrote, “I, along with many other people, am in dire need of “Octane for the Brain!” I have this treasured letter from my “hero-of-intrepid-aging” framed and hanging in my office. I look at it every single day.

In an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2002, John Glenn made a statement that sums up his “life mission” well. He said, “To me there is no greater calling. If I can inspire young people to dedicate themselves to the good of mankind, I’ve accomplished something.”

My tribute to an American Hero

It was sad to hear the news December 8, 2016. On that day, air and space pioneer John Glenn, slipped the surly bonds of earth at the age of 95. Glenn completed his last space flight likely surrounded by angels as he flew into eternity. He will be greatly missed.

Godspeed, John Glenn!

Jeanie Mckay

Author of Octane for the Brain, Jeanie McKay, is a sought-after certified Life Transitions and Leadership Success coach, keynote speaker, and workshop facilitator with over 20 years experience empowering others to live their best lives. Jeanie is the Founder of MindZone LLC "Where the science of the brain meets the art of being human". Jeanie's most popular programs for "Generation Age-less" include Octane for the Brain: Rock Your 50s and Beyond... Ignite! Energy Dynamics, and Master-Minds for Health and Well-Being.

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