With the passing of John Glenn last week, I thought it would be appropriate to pause my coverage of Apollo 10 for a week and create an episode that celebrates the life of the American Icon, John Glenn. I covered John Glenn’s Mercury flight in episodes 30-31. I am going to re-release those episodes over the next 2 days. So I won’t spend a lot of time on his Mercury flight in this episode, that will be covered tomorrow.
In May 1961, NASA was not really prepared to direct an enormous Apollo program designed to fly its spacecraft to the moon. New and special facilities would be needed and the aerospace industry would have to be marshaled to develop vehicles not easily adapted to production lines, but at this point no one had even decided just what Apollo’s component parts should be or how they should look.
In January 1960, President Eisenhower directed NASA Administrator Glennan to accelerate the Super Booster Program that had recently been assigned to NASA. This order ensured the transfer of the von Braun group from the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to NASA, and it gave Glennan the launch vehicle development and management capability that he needed.
On April 1, 1959, Robert Gilruth, the head of the Space Task Group, Charles Donlan, Warren North, and Stanley White selected the first American astronauts. The “Mercury Seven” were Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., John H. Glenn, Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Alan B. Shepard, Jr., and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton.
Candidates were given continuous psychiatric interviews throughout the week, and extensive self-examination through a battery of 13 psychological tests for personality and motivation, and another dozen different tests on intellectual functions and special aptitudes–these were all part of the Week of Truth at Dayton.
Two of the more interesting personality and motivation studies seemed like parlor games at first, until it became evident how profound an exercise in Socratic introspection was implied by conscientious answers to the test questions “Who am I?” and “Whom would you assign to the mission if you could not go yourself?” In the first case, by requiring the subject to write down 20 definitional identifications of himself, ranked in order of significance, and interpreted protectively, the psychologists elicited information on identity and perception of social roles. In the peer ratings, each candidate was asked which of the other members of the group of five accompanying him through this phase of the program he liked best, which one he would like to accompany him on a two-man mission, and whom he would substitute for himself. Candidates who had proceeded this far in the selection process all agreed with one who complained, “Nothing is sacred any more.”