On this day in 1962 John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. At the time Glenn and his fellow Mercury astronauts were rock stars. The successful flight for Glenn made him a household name and later and a US Senator. We may have lost this part of the Space Race to the Soviets as a Soviet was first in space, but with Glenn and the Mercury astronauts America had full pride in what Tom Wofle famously noticed as our single combat warriors who were fearlessly ready to take on the Soviet empire. NASA’s program ultimately led to the first Moon landing and an unquestioned dominance of space.
This was a major win for America during the Cold War. Our single combat warriors fought the communists for us and we won.
Fast forward to present day where just a few weeks ago SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy, the largest and heaviest rocket ever to be lifted into space. The two booster rockets for Falcon Heavy returned to Earth and landed upright on side-by-side landing pads eight minutes after they had taken off for space. This is all amazing and it gets better. In their test flight, SpaceX released a Tesla convertible (a car) into interplanetary orbit. In the car is a mannequin in a spacesuit sitting behind the wheel. Wow.
The successful return of the booster rockets is a huge victory for space exploration, which was accomplished by the private sector, with help from NASA. And that last part is important; we need NASA. With the costs associated with space exploration as high as they are it is tough to not let the private sector take over our space efforts. That is a sound argument. The private sector has proven they can handle this. But if space is completely outsourced to the private sector then we will miss the opportunity to celebrate the same kind of admiration for our country that America experienced during Mercury Project.
NASA led the way for the beginning of space exploration. They were there for us when we needed single combat warriors to keep the Cold War cold. And they did EVERYTHING with an American flag either sewn to their suit or planted in the Moon’s surface! I am a hard free-market capitalist so I really appreciate the tremendous achievements of today’s private sector, but I am glad an American flag is on the Moon as opposed to a SpaceX or Virgin Galactic flag.
A plaque attached to the inside of the car hurling through space right now reads “made on Earth by humans.” Wouldn’t we rather have it say- Made in America. With NASA, America keeps that kind of branding.