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NASA Science

Space Team Reunites For John Glenn's Friendship 7 82

Posted by samzenpus
from the getting-the-band-back-together dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "An era begins to pass as only about 25 percent of today's American population were at least 5 years old when John Glenn climbed into the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule on Feb. 20, 1962 and became the first American to orbit the earth. This weekend John Glenn joined the proud, surviving veterans of NASA's Project Mercury to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his historic orbital flight as Glenn and Scott Carpenter, the two surviving members of the original astronaut corps, thanked the retired Mercury workers, now in their 70s and 80s, who gathered with their spouses at the Kennedy Space Center to swap stories, pose for pictures and take a bow. 'There are a lot more bald heads and gray heads in that group than others, but those are the people who did lay the foundation,' said 90-year-old Glenn. Norm Beckel Jr., a retired engineer who also was in the blockhouse that historic morning, said almost all the workers back then were in their 20s and fresh out of college. The managers were in their 30s. 'I don't know if I'd trust a 20-year-old today.' Bob Schepp, 77, was reminded by the old launch equipment of how rudimentary everything was back then. 'I wonder how we ever managed to launch anything in space with that kind of stuff,' said Schepp. 'Everything is so digital now. But we were pioneers, and we made it all work.'"
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Space Team Reunites For John Glenn's Friendship 7

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  • So casual... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo@NOspaM.world3.net> on Sunday February 19, 2012 @03:02PM (#39094067) Homepage

    'I don't know if I'd trust a 20-year-old today.'

    Since when was ageism okay?

    • by Beelzebud (1361137) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @03:05PM (#39094079)
      It seems to happen around 40. ;)
    • by amck (34780)

      If nobody _else_ knows better, no reason to trust it to a 20-year old who doesn't know better.

      If somebody else does, then why are you neglecting their experience?
      If you had a choice, you'd build a team with a mix of youth and experience.

      • by epp_b (944299)
        Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?
      • Who knew better? (Score:5, Informative)

        by darkonc (47285) <(moc.neergcb) (ta) (leumas_nehpets)> on Sunday February 19, 2012 @04:04PM (#39094463) Homepage Journal
        There were about 120 former V2 technicians from Germany and a small handful of American pioneers, and anybody else who had formally studied rocketry was a young'un. Pretty much nobody under 30 who was good enough was likely to bet the remainder of his career on as experimental a process as rocketry -- and until shortly before Glen got his first flight, sending people into space was considered woo-woo. --

        Up until 1958, the US military was formally forbidden to put a rocket into space. Not quite the career path for an engineer who was married with children.

        Then the soviets put Sputnik onto space in the fall of 57, and the gloves came off. That would have been when NASA went to all of the colleges and hunted down the brightest young minds to do the real work of the space program. There were still a few 'old fogies' in the upper echelons, but the bulk of the crew was green under the collar.

        • by darkonc (47285)
          Oops. that should have been "Pretty much nobody over 30".

          Pretty much nobody under 30 who was good enough was likely to bet the remainder of his career on as experimental a process as rocketry

        • by ebvwfbw (864834)
          Keep hearing about Germany. They asked the German scientists about how they came to their knowledge. They said it was all from an American - Robert Goddard. The real pioneer. No doubt, the German scientists deserve and get credit for what they did. Just don't give them too much credit, they don't deserve that.
        • What is "woo-woo" supposed to mean?

    • by FlynnMP3 (33498)

      My take on it is there is a significant percentage of younger folks who don't have the drive and the work ethic that they did back then. Not entirely accurate, since people trained in highly skilled professions tend to take their jobs quite seriously and work just as hard (if not harder) than older generations.

      But that's my own view. Who the hell knows what he was referring to.

      • by Surt (22457)

        This is a common cognitive or sampling bias that shows up every generation. Each generation gets older, looks around, sees some young people who aren't working hard (because that's who you can see when you look around), and then concludes the younger generation doesn't have the same work ethic. I could as easily say that since we had 6, 20-something interns last summer, all of whom were extremely dedicated and hard working, the work ethic of their generation is better than mine. But that would be equally

        • by dargaud (518470)

          'I don't know if I'd trust a 20-year-old today.'

          Yeah. That quotes reeks. Who does this guy think built the www ? The people who started Yahoo, Google and most other startups were in their 20s. May not be as impressive as a big cylinder full of explosive, but in the long term the Internet will matter a lot more.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          I don't think the work ethic is the problem, I think it's the competency. I really don't believe kids coming out of college these days are as competent as the ones coming out of school back in the 60s. It's not the fault of the kids, it's the fault of the educational system and society. For one thing, back then, engineering was a good career choice for very smart kids. Salaries for experienced engineers were a lot higher, you didn't have to worry about being laid off on a whim, and you didn't have to wo

          • by instagib (879544)

            I also see two other reasons: On the one hand, stricter parents and more discipline. On the other hand, studying engineering in the past was more into "build things", rather than "specialize and memorize".

            • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @11:35PM (#39096901) Homepage

              Back then the USA had a lot more family farms, or kids whose relatives or grandparents were famers. From what I've heard, growing up on a family farm tends to make people used to hard work, independently solving problems, working with both your hands and your mind, and also often provides a familiarity with dangerous chemicals and even explosives of some sort or other (like to dynamite big rocks out of a field). Hard to compare that to what most kids these days experience growing up where they can't even get near a decent chemistry set...

    • by Surt (22457)

      It's likely he can't help it. At that age the brain is breaking down so badly inhibition of thoughts fails, and people start to rant against whatever random target trips their wires. This is why you see a lot racism in nursing homes. It's not because they lived in a different era, it's because they are old.

    • Re:So casual... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by UziBeatle (695886) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @04:03PM (#39094455)

      "Since when was ageism okay?"

      Well, I suppose it does sound that way. I'll give it my spin
      from a 56 year old perspective and maybe some insight
      for you.

      When I graduated from a very middle class neighboorhood
      High School (in the shadow of the Johnson Space Center, Clear
      Lake,TX) back in 1974 I knew full well that the standards
      I was being judged by were less than prior years.

      I can't speak for all school districts, onlly the one I was involved with but I know many across the United States, by that time, had greatly backed off standard needed to graduate and teaching methods had changed during the 60's.

      Examples. Multiple choice questions tests began
      to become far more common as time went on. In the
      past students had either fill in the blank or worse, ESSAY
      type responces on weekly tests.
      I'm sure even todays student realizes how easy multiple
      choice tests are and that fill in the blank and essay
      systems require more knowledge. By the time I was in
      school in the 60's and 70's essay responses were
      pretty much gone. It was rare for me to face them.

      On English courses. In years before my experience
      in public High School students were required to file
      far more written essays during the year than we were.
      In fact, by the time I graduated my school district
      had greatly relaxed the final English requirements
      and the final essay test score impact on your total
      score was lowered by a significant amount.

      Mathematics. In my school district the math requirements
      were lowered during the 70's. By the time I graduated
      one merely needed ALgebra 1 and Geometry 1 to get
      a free pass to graduation. Pretty sad as prior generations, particularly early 60's era and before had MUCH more
      math required under their belts prior to thinking of going
      to college.

      The sciences. Again, lowered requirements. Physics
      was required in prior years. In my case again, one didn't need
      near as much chemistry and 'real' physics was not required.
      You could get by with a pretty skimpy science exposure overall.

      I've got a number of books on my shelves that date to the
      early part of prior century and up thru the mid 40's that
      focus on the teaching of Algebra and Geometry to that
      eras equivilant of grade school thru high school levels.
      Trust me those books show to me that expected
      standards were much higher for students earlier
      in the food chain. Grade school kids were learning
      mathematics that only was experienced by me
      until High School in the 70's.
      I recall when a High School degree actually meant something.
      By the 80's it was common feeling among many I worked
      with then that High School degrees by that era were
      becoming more and more meaningless due to the
      standards the Publik Skool Districts were using.

      This isn't to say that by today there are not brilliant
      20 somethings out there. We all know there are.
      It is my sense, at the ancient age of 56 , that there
      are far less as a percentage of the population, of solid
      very knowledgeable people in the pool to pick from.

      Indeed, think about it. I was amazed myself at the progress
      of the USA space program. I knew it was powered by
      German science as that was no secret. I knew
      that we had a miserable space program at the start of the 60's and were actually incapable of lifting jack squat into
      space without rockets blowing up right and left.
      Mercury, Gemini , Apollo and the landing men on the fraking
      moon on July 20, 1969 all occurred in a mere damn 9 years.

      That sir, was a miracle compared to today. I don't think
      it could be reproduced.

      So, yah, though it hurts to admit it. I agree, that that generation
      of 20 to 30 year olds were far more potent than the generation
      I came from in the sense they

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Ok, ok, I'll get off your lawn.

      • WTF? I'm of a similar age to you (within a few years). However, I don't recall a single "multiple choice" test in high school or university (engineering), or even when I returned to grad school (PhD) in mid-career. Every formal test involved writing essays and/or doing unexpected analysis and/or making unprompted calculations. Writing and publicly defending the thesis was another kettle of fish. I recall encountering multiple choice tests in primary school only, and they were far from the predominant form

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          I'm pretty sure he's talking about pre-college schools having lowered their standards, as he mentions public schools over and over again. I had tons of multiple-choice exams when I was in public school in the 80s and early 90s. If the kids coming out of public schools aren't as well educated as in decades past, then obviously colleges will have to lower their standards too.

      • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @05:48PM (#39095089)

        I can't speak for all school districts, onlly the one I was involved with but I know many across the United States, by that time, had greatly backed off standard needed to graduate and teaching methods had changed during the 60's.

        a free pass to graduation. Pretty sad as prior generations, particularly early 60's era and before had MUCH more

        that we had a miserable space program at the start of the 60's and were actually incapable of lifting jack squat into

        I'm afraid you'll have to resubmit your batch. The lines quoted didn't fit the punch cards.

      • by Zibodiz (2160038)
        I'm not sure why, but in my head, this whole post was read in Colonel Tigh's voice.
      • by Skylax (1129403)
        Well in my experience the standards of high school education is only half the story. Sure the better it is the more easily you will master challenges in your later life but I think you can rectify most of the gaps during college or university as most of the things you learn in high school are not so important.
        I'm from germany and in my high school (I graduated in 2003) there were no multiple choice tests, but mostly essay type of questions. In science tests you were given a questions and you had to develo
      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        I'm sure even todays student realizes how easy multiple
        choice tests are and that fill in the blank and essay
        systems require more knowledge.

        When I was at school in the 80s and early 90s there were not that common, but that misses the wider point that many people consider them better than essay type questions. What is the goal of testing? To determine if someone understands the principals and concepts, or if they remember all the formulas and jargon off by heart?

        I'll admit multiple choice is not the best way to test understanding, but a lot of people who complain about students being given formulas or allowed to use textbooks in exams seem to mi

    • by evilviper (135110)

      Since when was ageism okay?

      1976.

    • Frankly, back then, nobody much over 45 had ANY experience with liquid propelled rockets!!

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @03:26PM (#39094209) Homepage

    And the other 'private' space companies.

    Seems like it's the 1960's all over again. Small groups of engineers trying to do something cool. Maybe that's what we need to bootstrap things up again. Of course, they're essentially trying to do the same thing as NASA was trying to do in the 1960's minus the unknown factor.

    But I bet it's fun to work in an environment where you have a small group of intelligent people.

    (Sighs and and tries to focus enough on federal compliance regulations long enough to get ready for tomorrow's administration meeting.)

    • by Animats (122034)

      Of course, they're essentially trying to do the same thing as NASA was trying to do in the 1960's minus the unknown factor.

      Right. There's only so much you can do with chemical fuels. By 1970 or so, chemical rockets were about as good as they could ever get.

      Nuclear rocket engines have been built and tested successfully [wikipedia.org], but for political reasons were not pursued.

      • by lennier (44736)

        Nuclear rocket engines have been built and tested successfully [wikipedia.org], but for political reasons were not pursued.

        For a very slim definition of "Successful". That article really needs to be updated - right now it reads like a 1960s propaganda sheet for the atomic spaceflight program.

        For an example of some of the actual real-world difficulties that nuclear rockets faced, try reading this article on the ever amazing "Beyond Apollo" blog: Nuclear Flight System Definition studies (1971) [blogspot.co.nz]

        Osias postulated a maximum allowable radiation dose for an astronaut from sources other than cosmic rays of between 10 and 25 Roentgen Equ

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Seems to me that these nuclear engines would be perfectly fine for use in applications other than lifting a rocket out of the atmosphere, such as transit to the Moon, or better yet to Mars or other more distant objects in the solar system or beyond. The radiation problem is obviously significant when lifting off from the ground, but once you're in orbit who cares? And who cares about spent fuel? Just jettison it into deep space. Obviously, though, you'd want to make sure you have absolutely no accidents

    • by k6mfw (1182893)
      I was talking with a 20-something while in FL waiting for the STS-135 launch. She is majoring in engineering (forgot what field, she changed from being a literature major). I asked her what does she think of SpaceX and she totally went "oh wow, I sure hope I can work for SpaceX!!!!!" My impression is she interested in participating in the space program but first choice is to work at SpaceX, as if they "connect" with 20 somethings unlike NASA, Lockmart, Boeing,etc.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's pretty awesome working at SpaceX. Though the science of rocketry has been nailed for a while, alot of the actual design is still black arts, and most of the people who did the original Saturn V/ redstone missions are dead now. Materials and tech has changed so much in the last 40 odd years that designing rockets is completely different now ( yeah, those crazy apollo guys didn't have CAD or FEA, just paper and brains). What we're doing is like the cheap bootstraps version of the apollo program, similar

  • Godspeed! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stox (131684) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @03:33PM (#39094263) Homepage

    I can only hope we can revigorate ourselves to reach even further in the years ahead of us.

    As for the 20 year old quip, the young are not burdened with what the older think is impossible. Conversely, the older have learned that
    it is probably not a good idea to juggle bottles of nitro glycerin. Though, sometimes, we will stand back a ways and watch the youngin try. ;->
    Sometimes, we're surprised!

  • by arisvega (1414195) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @03:38PM (#39094285)

    Sorry to set the bar high (or to remind that it's not high enough) but am I the only one that sees this as a reminder of what more could had been done during those 50 years?

    Orbit the Earth, then walk on the moon, then take cars on the moon with you, then play golf on the moon, then -for some reason- abstain from going anywhere higher than low Earth orbit indefinetely?

    Sure, there has been a great deal of progress in automation and exploration, but in terms of human presense in space the situation seems a bit pathetic.

    • Orbit the Earth, then walk on the moon, then take cars on the moon with you, then play golf on the moon, then -for some reason- abstain from going anywhere higher than low Earth orbit indefinetely?

      The reason is the same reason so many things get cut short either at their prime, or before they've even exited the "idea" stage -- Money.

      No bucks, no Buck Rogers.

      And why isn't there any money to do this? Politics. Everyone wants things, but they want everyone else to pay for it. No one wants to pay for anythin

      • by the gnat (153162)

        No one wants to pay for anything. Especially things they can't see immediate benefit from.. such as R&D, exploration (space, maritime and other) and pure research.

        Basic research has never been especially unpopular, because it usually doesn't cost a boatload of money compared to other federal programs, and the ROI is considered fairly good. You won't find many people complaining about unmanned space exploration, because it's still not insanely expensive has generally been very productive scientifically,

    • Orbit the Earth, then walk on the moon, then take cars on the moon with you, then play golf on the moon, then -for some reason- abstain from going anywhere higher than low Earth orbit indefinetely?

      Psst! It's the aliens, man! They said "All these low Earth orbits are yours except the Moon. Attempt no landing there."

      Gotta run, I hear someone coming!

  • Truly Amazing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by epp_b (944299) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @03:44PM (#39094339)

    'I wonder how we ever managed to launch anything in space with that kind of stuff,'

    So do I. It really is astonishing when you consider all NASA was able to accomplish in about a decade at a time a digital calculator was the size of a dictionary (or something like that, I'm not actually old enough to be the get-off-my-lawn group). Check out the documentary The NASA Missions: When We Left Earth, it really gives you an appreciation for this.

    And, frankly, I can't blame Glenn for "[not trusting] a 20-year-old today" and I don't think it's age-discrimination either. Would you trust some gizmo-reliant "adult teenager" of today to put you in into LEO? NASA was using slide-rules, hard science and critical thinking. Today, some "20-year-old" will probably just take a computed message at its word without a second thought.

    (it's not ageist for me to say of any of this, I'm in my 20's :P)

    • Re:Truly Amazing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by captjc (453680) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @04:03PM (#39094459)

      Yes, because most 20 year-olds back in the fifties and early sixties were all intelligent, serious, hard-working, responsible adults.

      The young engineers working at NASA worked hard to get where they were. Just like there are many 20-something engineers today who also working their ass off. The difference between now and then is that engineering and government service wasn't looked down upon as it is today. It was also a well paying profession. Those smart, motivated young people are now attracted more towards financial and web-based endeavors. Because that is where the money and opportunities are.

      • by lennier (44736)

        Those smart, motivated young people are now attracted more towards financial and web-based endeavors. Because that is where the money and opportunities are.

        And unlike building space rockets and ICBMs, when complex financial instruments miscalculate and blow up they don't destroy trillions of .... um...

        Well, eheh, the big difference between the two is that financial instruments could conceivably be used for purposes other than mass destruction. I mean, it's possible. It could have been possible. We could imagine a world in which it could have been possible. Logically speaking, the creation of a financial instrument doesn't entail... well... the supposition of a

    • by turing_m (1030530)

      It wasn't just any random 20 year old. It was the best of the best. Select the best of the best today, and they are going to be using computers, hard science and critical thinking. The only difference is the computer part instead of the slide rule. And realistically, the best and brightest are not going to ASS-U-ME anything any more than they did back in the 1950s. Any good engineer estimates the result of every calculation in his head to see what it should be roughly. The same general idea - "Does this mak

      • Re:Truly Amazing (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Grishnakh (216268) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @06:14PM (#39095231)

        Wrong. The best of the best today won't have bothered to major in any engineering field most likely; instead, they'll have gone into some other major such as finance or medicine, where the pay is a lot higher and they don't have to worry about being unemployable after age 40. Back in the 60s, many of the brightest people did want to go into engineering, because it was a highly respected profession and paid very well, and had very good job security too. Nowadays, it's a totally unrespected profession, the pay is shit (it starts out OK, goes up with about 5 years experience, and then levels off), and is rife with ageism so you can't expect to make it a lifelong career. The smartest kids these days see this, and avoid the field entirely.

    • by k6mfw (1182893)

      > Today, some "20-year-old" will probably just...

      Probably some of these 20-year-olds are doing something else these days, even now I meet some who are hard science and critical thinking. I'm sure back then they had their share of 20-year olds with 2 year old mentalities.

  • - a very interesting comment by one of the 77 year old engineers who was at the event. Is this old age making a man more conservative and risk-averse? Would today's engineers in their 20s be able to devise a space program if they had to? would they get a chance to with the baby boomers still holding on to the positions of authority? I'm often amazed at how young pioneers tend to be, but perhaps it's just a statement about cutting edge fields and risk takers, I suppose the silicon valley folks in the 90s w

    • by lennier (44736)

      Would today's engineers in their 20s be able to devise a space program if they had to?

      1. Buy Xbox.
      2. Buy Mass Effect 3.
      3. Achievement unlocked!

      oh wait, you meant, like, actual hardware? Bricks-and-mortar space? That's pretty retro. Um. Let me check out Lifehacker and see if there are any recipes posted for hypergolic propulsion?

    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      We still have young pioneers, but they're not going into aerospace. They're going into finance, medicine, or maybe software engineering so they can make the next Facebook or Angry Birds. Even back in the 90s when I was in college, we laughed at the aerospace engineering majors, because that industry was considered "dead"; there weren't many job prospects in it, as there's not a lot of money in it. The best and brightest generally don't want to go into fields where there's little investment or activity; t

  • First man in space (Score:4, Informative)

    by nbauman (624611) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @04:39PM (#39094707) Homepage Journal

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Gagarin [wikipedia.org]

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/yuri-gagarin-the-man-who-fell-to-earth-2257505.html [independent.co.uk]

    Best thing that ever happened to American science education.

  • To me what's amazing is a little more than SEVEN years after the first American orbited the earth, Americans walked on the moon, with all that entailed. Heck, less than a decade after Glenn's flight they were driving a little car around on the moon! Incredible.
  • by k6mfw (1182893) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @05:00PM (#39094801)

    An interesting comment on yahoo article by 7againstThebes, "When he didn't launch the first time...or the second...or the third...etc., he didn't blame politicians, he didn't blame the NASA staff, he didn't blame his fellow astronauts. He's a real pro in every sense of the word. Kids, watch him and learn."

    Most are too young to remember, and many old timers have forgot, it was scrub after scrub after scrub after scrub after scrub... till they ***finally*** got that can off the ground. Getting off the ground is hard, really hard, and it ain't cheap.

  • Even 50 years later, I still remember it as if it were yesterday, along with the Apollo 1 fire, landing on the moon etc. It was a really exciting time, in the 60's as we were taking steps to explore outside the earth, then, after we beat the Russians to the moon, everything pretty much stopped. We build that stupid shuttle, instead of continuing to explore the moon. We stopped "exploring", and just were content to spend taxpayer money circling the earth in a reusable dump truck.
  • by Dzimas (547818) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @07:10PM (#39095553)
    Look, there has to be a compelling reason for space exploration. In the 1960s, the reason was to beat the Soviets to the moon to avoid falling behind in the space race. Fast-forward 50 years, and there's no space race, nor have we made any amazing discoveries on the moon or Mars that would encourage a government to spend trillions of $€ to get there. You can rest assured that things would be different if we found something of great value that could be mined on the moon, or some alien life. But as it is, we're just blundering around aimlessly in LEO with vague plans to revisit the moon, visit mars or perhaps drill a hole in an asteroid. If it doesn't inspire the public, it most likely won't inspire the cranky old lawmakers who are key to the funding.

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