Wednesday, May 05, 2021

The Bravest Spam

On this day in 1961, Alan Shepherd strapped himself atop a giant cylinder containing tons of flammable liquid and accelerant, essentially a repurposed intercontinental ballistic missile, and they bolted the hatch shut behind him. After a three hour delay, during which he had to piss himself in his suit because nobody had thought to include a relief tube for what was planned to be a twenty minute flight profile, he was blasted off the surface of the planet to become the second man in space and the first American astronaut to slip the surly bonds, for reals, yo.

The short mission basically launched him into space along a ballistic arc, and he splashed down in the north Atlantic fifteen minutes and twenty-two seconds later.

February of the following year, after another suborbital mission by "Gus" Grissom, John Glenn would ride a similar capsule to become the first American astronaut to orbit the planet.

Shepherd's capsule wasn't at Udvar-Hazy when I visited back in 2015, but Glenn's Friendship 7 was visible down on the floor of the restoration hangar.

(The post title, of course, is drawn from the Chuck Yeager line in The Right Stuff where he describes astronauts as "spam in a can", as opposed to pilots.)