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A Seth Pohorence Pop-Ed: The Mercury Seven: Real American Badasses

I feel bad that I missed the news, but Scott Carpenter died last month. With his passing, six of the original seven Mercury Project astronauts have perished. For you kids who went to public school, the Mercury Project was America's first serious space program. These macho, educated badasses made sure America got to space and eventually the moon.

Growing up, there were a few things I wanted to be. One of them was to be an astronaut. That dream never came close to coming true. Then again, I never became an outfielder for the Cleveland Indians or a world-famous race car driver, but I did host a hockey call-in show. Back to the point — I thought that astronauts were these fearless, smart guys, who did things to one-up those dirty Commies. Turns out, I was not too far off.

For those who read Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff or saw the Philip Kaufman film of the same name, this will be nothing new in your knowledge of NASA's early days. The government, urged on by President John F. Kennedy's promise to get to the moon, wanted to win the space race against the Russians. You know, the Cold War was a thing back then. NASA needed the perfect guys to make this happen.

The Mercury Project sought out pilots with not only ties to the armed forces but also a college background. After vigorous testing, they found their seven: Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper and Deke Slayton. These men were to go into space to help us defeat the USSR.

At the start of the project, no man or beast had made its way into outer space. All we had was basic knowledge on the stars and air travel. Would these aircrafts fly? Could they support living things inside them for their mission? Would these guys get killed?

Think about it. All you had were all these pilots from different branches of service (three Navy, three Air Force and a lone Marine). They only had experience flying planes while still in our planet's atmosphere. These guys were ballsy enough to tell the brains at NASA that they needed to control these "planned" missions. They wanted to avoid being Spam in a can, and wanted pilot these missions. Oh, and while they did that, they partied.

Early astronauts partied hard. They were sleeping with all the hot betties on the Florida coast. They drank a lot, and they all got brand new Chevrolet Corvettes. They raised hell. But when it came down to the work, these guys also delivered.

Shepard not only became the first American in space, but he was also commander on Apollo 14. Shepard, in true American form, played golf on the moon.

Grissom suffered the worst fate of any of the Mercury Seven,  being killed in a fire in Apollo 1.

Glenn, apart from being the coolest Ohoian not named Neil Armstrong to go into space, also became a senator and the oldest person in space.

Schirra was commander of Apollo 7, becoming the only astronaut to be associated with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions.

Sadly, the only one alive is Glenn. I urge everyone to either watch The Right Stuff or read the book, because these guys were awesome. Astronauts…. real American badasses!

Contact Seth Pohorence on Twitter at @spohorence.
A Seth Pohorence Pop-Ed: The Mercury Seven: Real American Badasses Reviewed by Seth Pohorence on 11/06/2013 Rating: 5

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