Amid the pop stars and icons of last year, a true American hero died.
John Glenn died at the ripe old age of 95, having lived a full and adventurous life. He got his first taste of flying when he was only eight. He flew a total of 149 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War. At the time of his death, he the oldest surviving member of the Mercury 7, a group of military test pilots chosen by NASA in 1959 to be the first astronauts. On February 20, 1962, on the Friendship 7 mission, he became the 5th person in space and the first American to orbit the Earth. He orbited the Earth over 100 times. Over the course of his career, he also served as the president of RC Cola, a US State Senator, and even ran for US President. In 1998, he became the oldest person to fly in space when the 77 year old climbed aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery as a payload specialist.
Not too shabby.
It is no wonder that some folks in b the UFO community have tried to co-opt John Glenn’s legacy. They usually make mention of his space “fireflies” or quote him regarding an apparent admission of a NASA cover up.
During that first mission in space, John Glenn did see something strange. In an exclusive Life magazine interview, he said:
“There, spread out as far as I could see were literally thousands of tiny luminous objects that glowed in the black sky like fireflies. I was riding slowly through them, and the sensation was like walking backwards through a pasture where someone had waved a wand and made all the fireflies stop right where they were and glow steadily.”
The following is from the mission transcript:
John Glenn This is Friendship Seven. I’ll try to describe what I’m in here. I am in a big mass of some very small particles, that are brilliantly lit up like they’re luminescent. I never saw anything like it. They round a little; they’re coming by the capsule, and they look like little stars. A whole shower of them coming by.
John Glenn They swirl around the capsule and go in front of the window and they’re all brilliantly lighted. They probably average maybe 7 or 8 feet apart, but I can see them all down below me, also.
CAPCOM Roger, Friendship Seven. Can you hear any impact with the capsule? Over.
John Glenn Negative, negative. They’re very slow; they’re not going away from me more than maybe 3 or 4 miles per hour. They’re going at the same speed I am approximately. They’re only very slightly under my speed. Over.
John Glenn They do, they do have a different motion, though, from me because they swirl around the capsule and then depart back the way I am looking.
John Glenn Are you receiving? Over.
The mystery of John Glenn’s spaceborne “fireflies” wasn’t solved until May 1962’s Aurora 7 Mercury mission. Astronaut Scott Carpenter also saw the fireflies, or snowflakes, as he more aptly termed them once he figured out what they were. It turns out that these cosmic fireflies were actually nothing more than tiny white pieces of frost from the side of the capsule. As the capsule circled the planet, condensation froze into a layer of frost as the craft passed into the cold orbital darkness away from the sunlight. As the capsule re-emerged into sunlight, the frost flakes would come off and float around the capsule. When the sunlight shone on them, it transformed the frost flakes into “luminescent” firefiles. To prove his theory, Carpenter banged on the side of the capsule, causing more flakes to came off, reproducing the firefly effect.
As I mentioned, a quote by John Glenn gets a lot of mileage from the UFO community because it seems to admit to a NASA cover up:
“Back in those glory days, I was very uncomfortable when they asked us to say things we didn’t want to say and deny other things. Some people asked, you know, were you alone out there? We never gave the real answer, and yet we see things out there — strange things — but we know what we saw out there. And we couldn’t really say anything. The bosses were really afraid of this, they were afraid of the War of the Worlds type stuff, and about panic in the streets. So, we had to keep quiet. And now we only see these things in our nightmares… or maybe in the movies, and some of them are pretty close to being the truth.”
I’ve seen this quote on several sites where it is simply listed as a quote from John Glenn about extraterrestrial life or UFOs. Of course, it’s wildly out-of-context.
You see, in 2001, John Glenn appeared on the Frasier sitcom, where he played himself as a radio personality Roz has temporarily replaced Frasier Crane with. While the two are fighting, Glenn delivers his “disclosure.” All the while, Roz and Frasier continue fighting, and miss the whole thing entirely, making Glenn’s supposedly earthshattering monologue all the more hilarious. At the end, he takes the studio tape recording with him.
Conspiracy theorists quickly concluded that John Glenn was calling NASA out but the context of the show makes it clear that his “admission ” wasn’t meant to be taken seriously.
It’s good to have a sense of humor about these things, and John Glenn certainly did. One thing he took seriously was his Christian faith. A devout Presbyterian even before he became an astronaut, he prayed every day during his space flights.
Just after returning from his final trip at the age of 77, he told reporters:
“To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.”