John Glenn and Queens Space Park Get Second Chance At History – QNS.com

John Glenn and Queens Space Park Get Second Chance At History

When John Glenn blasts into space aboard the space shuttle at the age of 77, it will bring back strong memories for millions of people of that fateful day on February 20, 1962 when the world held its breath as Glenn blasted off aboard the Mercury rocket called "Friendship 7." In being the first American to orbit the earth, he became Americas greatest hero since Charles Lindbergh. JFK was president and the space age had just dawned. The country was caught up with the optimistic possibilities of exploring the heavens. Many years and events have passed in these 36 years with the nation and the space program going through times of triumphs and tragedies. To many, the space program had lost its luster and the public interest waned. With Glenn’s return to space this week, it seems as if a septuagenarian senator from Ohio has brought back some of that sense of sixties optimism and renewed excitement in the journey to the stars. Here in Queens there stand strange sentinels to the 60s fascination with space exploration. Over the decades they too have lost their luster, neglected and all but forgotten. They now stand frayed and damaged. The once gleaming monuments are now grey and weathered. But like John Glenn they are about to be rejuvenated as historic treasures — monuments to a time when not even the sky was the limit. The monuments– missiles actually –stand adjacent to the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. "When are you going to fix up those rockets?" has been one of the most frequently asked questions of Hall of Science officials over the years. Now it appears there is hope for the future of the rockets which are strange landmarks rising high over the homes of Corona. Both Mayor Giuliani and Queens Borough President Claire Shulman have given their support to obtain funding for the $1 million face lift-off that will restore the rockets and move them to a new location at the Hall of Science where they can be more readily seen from the Grand Central Pkwy and by visitors to the park. Architects have been selected and it is expected that final approvals will be given shortly to begin the restoration process which would be completed, appropriately by 2001. Those rockets are the last vestiges of the United States Space Park, a pavilion created for the 1964-65 World’s Fair by NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the Department of Defense and the Fair itself. Coinciding with the United States’ strong commitment to space exploration, many features at the Fair celebrated the new space age. One exhibit, for example had a huge planetarium-like dome which looked like the moon on the outside. Inside was projected a movie called "To The Moon and Beyond" which was seen by director Stanley Kubrick and inspired him to make the film "2001:A Space Odessy." The General Motors "Futurama" — the fair’s most popular attraction — depicted colonies on the moon. The main exhibit in the Great Hall of the Hall of Science was a dramatic demonstration of a space station and a space shuttle — an event considered incredible at the time. At the adjacent NASA Space Park visitors could see the largest collection of space vehicles on view outside of Cape Canaveral. Visitors could see the new rockets that were lifting astronauts into orbit every few months and they could meet the new heroes such as Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper. One of the astronauts who delighted in signing autographs for kids in the Space Park next to a prototype of the lunar lander was a rookie astronaut named Neil Armstrong. Neither he or the lucky kids who got his autograph knew at the time that Armstrong would be selected four years later to be the first human being to set foot on the moon. At the close of the fair NASA donated the rockets as a permanent display for the Hall of Science, a building also designed to be a permanent fixture in the park. Of the original 22 spacecraft in the collection only three now remain there. They are a Saturn V Boattail: a complete full size mock-up of the bottom stage of the rocket that would take mankind to the moon and back again during the Apollo program. Its impressive but its still just a plywood replica made of fiberglass and plywood and probably will not be retained in the renovation. There is a Titan II-Gemini rocket; the parks tallest rocket at 110 feet, this was one of three great workhouse vehicles of the 60s. This is an actual rocket but the Gemini capsule on top is a replica. Finally there is an Atlas-Mercury rocket, a silvery missile used to launch the original one-man Mercury capsules into Earth orbit at the very start of the U.S. Space program. This rocket is the real thing from top to bottom and is the kind that was used by John Glenn in his historic 1962 flight. Like Glenn they are now perched to be launched once again and they will serve Queens as a dramatic reminder in the 21st Century of one of the greatest adventures of the 20th Century.

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