US marks 50th anniversary of space flight

Former astronaut John Glenn on Monday marked the 50th anniversary of the flight that made him the first American astronaut with vivid memories but also regret over the current state of the United States’s space programme.

On February 20 1962, Glenn blasted off from Cape Canaveral aboard an Atlas rocket to make three orbits around the Earth in just under five hours, a voyage that made him a national hero and restored confidence in America’s ability to compete in space with Russia.

“It seems to me like it was about a week or so ago, because I guess I’ve recalled it quite often over the past 50 years and that’s kept it fresh,” Glenn told CNN.

“It was such an impressive thing at the time that it’s indelibly imprinted on my memory and I can recall those days very vividly.”

He was to attend a gala later on Monday at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio in celebration of the historic flight aboard the craft Friendship 7.

He was also to join Nasa administrator Charles Bolden in a live chat with the crew of the International Space Station, kicking off a two-day “Future Forum” at the university in which he was also to attend a panel session.

Despite the outpouring of attention, it’s bittersweet for the US hero because the first nation to land people on the Moon now depends on Russia for its manned space flights.

Glenn, who served as a Democratic senator from 1974 through 1999, said last week that the administration of former president George W Bush sacrificed US space ambitions by cutting Nasa’s funding.

“I think it’s too bad,” he said. “I just hope some of the efforts now to recreate our own [space] transportation system come through.”

Nasa is relying on private enterprises to develop systems to replace the shuttle programme, which is expected to happen in about five years.

One of the companies, SpaceX, is scheduled to launch the first commercially built spacecraft to the International Space Station on March 20.—Sapa

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