Here is the seventh in a series of photographs centered on the early history of space flight on Cape Canaveral mostly taken during a tour organized by the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation. “Google” the foundation for details of future tours. Here we drive into Launch Complex 14 (LC-14) and look around.
In “Mercury 7 Pre-Launch Facilities” we learned how the present and past merge a few miles to the south at LC-36 where construction for launching a “New Glenn” rocket is underway by Blue Origin, an American privately funded aerospace manufacturer and sub-orbital spaceflight services company.
After viewing the Mercury 7 memorial, we approach the decommissioned blockhouse of LC-14.
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Under the “Welcome to Complex 14” sign, looking close, are freshly painted parking spaces for John Glenn, Jr. Lt Col; M. Scott Carpenter, LCDR; Walter M. Schirra, LCDR; L. Gordon Cooper, Maj.; the three astronauts who left for parts unknown from the launch pad just 873 feet to the south. Wow, that was close to the rocket. The solid blockhouse was a necessity, calling to mind the risks the single astronaut faced wait for the countdown, at the top of an Atlas missile.
Shortly after their selection, the seven astronauts witnessed a test launch of an Atlas missile, the ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) used to propel them into space. It was an spectacular failure, exploding in front of them. At the time, the missile was not reliable enough to be used to deliver a nuclear warhead.
July 29, 1960 the first test of an unmanned Mercury capsule, Mercury-Atlas 1, lasted just over 3 minutes before exploding 8 miles high and 6 miles away. In the words of Owen Maynard, a NASA systems engineer, “The problem of mating the Mercury capsule to the Atlas was far from being properly resolved at the time of MA-1.”
Col. Glenn’s Memoir
Six test iterations and less than two years later, John Glenn had these thoughts viewing the Atlas rocket the morning of his flight, “Searchlights lit the silvery Atlas much as they had the night we had watched it blow to pieces. I thought instead of the successful tests since then.”
These were Col. Glenn’s thoughts while sitting in the Mercury capsule, minutes from lift off, “In a mirror near the capsule window, I could see the blockhouse and back across the Cape. The periscope gave me a view out over the Atlantic. It was turning into a fine day. I felt a little bit like the way I had felt going into combat. There you are, ready to go; you know all the procedures, and there’s nothing left to do but just do it. People have always asked if I was afraid. I wasn’t. Constructive apprehension is more like it. I was keyed up and alert to everything that was going on, and I had full knowledge of the situation—the best antidote to fear. Besides, this was the fourth time I had suited up, and I still had trouble believing I would actually take off.”
Thankfully, we remember Friendship 7 as a great success. Today, the rocket stands among the others at Kennedy Space Center.
Sources of information for this post: I used information from the Wikipedia site for the key words John Glenn, Launch Complex 14, Mercury-Atlas, Launch Complex 36, Blue Origin, Mercury-Atlas 1. The photograph of Aurora 7 is from Flickr in “NASA on the Commons” photostream. The Col. Glenn quotes are from Glenn, John. “John Glenn: A Memoir”, (pp. 341, 343). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.