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Published: Friday, 2/21/2003

Launches into orbit often start in Ohio

BY MIKE BARTELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

We remember those magnificent young Ohioans in their multimillion-dollar flying machines.

Jules Verne fiction rocketed into reality, featuring people that Tom Wolfe described as having all The Right Stuff.

We remember being huddled in classrooms, workplaces, any place televisions flickered their grainy black-and-white pictures of a Marine Corps colonel from New Concord, John Glenn.

We were filled with fear, anticipation, excitement, and exhilaration as we watched him become the first American to orbit the Earth in his “Friendship 7” Mercury capsule on Feb. 20, 1962.

We remember the lesser quality black-and-white images and all of those same emotions, if not more so, as an extremely private Wapakoneta native, Neil Armstrong, became the first human to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969.

It was the exploits of one or both of those men that launched a generation of adventurers from their native state into the annals of space-age history.

Jim Lovell, a Cleveland native, was a member of the crew of Apollo 8 - the first humans to fly to the moon, orbit it, and return to Earth in December, 1968.

Mr. Lovell was set to return to the moon and walk on it in April, 1970, until a near disaster that turned into one of NASA's finest moments.

An oxygen tank exploded aboard Apollo 13, aborting the mission.

Mr. Kranz also was the flight director who guided Mr. Armstrong's landing on the moon.

We remember the brilliant blue sky as the rocket plane Challenger, with Judith Resnik, an electrical engineer from Akron aboard, climbed quickly, trying to slip the surly bonds of Earth, and then exploded, killing her and her six crewmates after just 73 seconds of flight on that cold morning on Jan. 28, 1986.

We remember a local boy, Tom Henricks - early years in Bryan, later years in Woodville - who was chosen to twice pilot and twice command space shuttle missions. One, in July, 1995, carried a special distinction because all but one of the crew members were from Ohio.

But with then-Gov. George Voinovich's quick action, Kevin Kregel, of Amityville, N.Y., was made an honorary Ohioan. He, along with Mr. Henricks; Nancy Currie, of Troy, and Donald Thomas and Mary Ellen Weber, both of Cleveland, were dubbed the “All-Ohio Crew.”

We remember Dr. Thomas, who decided on several subsequent flights to further put Tony Packo's on the map by taking cans of the famous restaurant's even more famous hot dog sauce into space so he could spice-up the offerings served while in orbit.

And we remember Carl Walz, a Cleveland native, who spent 196 days - from Dec. 5, 2001, to June 5, 2002 - aboard the International Space Station, setting a single individual U.S. space-flight record. Combined with the time spent aboard shuttles on three other flights, Colonel Walz holds the U.S. record for the most cumulative time in space - 231 days.

Why is Ohio - the “Birthplace of Aviation,” according to the state's license plates, and the “Birthplace of Aviation Pioneers,” according to its commemorative quarter - the cradle of so many astronauts - 24 of some 250 former and current U.S. spacefarers?

While difficult to quantify, some say it was because of Mr. Glenn and Mr. Armstrong.

``Senator Glenn and Mr. Armstrong did have some direct influence on my own career, especially Mr. Glenn,'' Mr. Henricks said.

“I think you pick most of your heroes when you're younger,'' Mr. Henricks said.

``So Senator Glenn was more in a time frame when I was clipping out pictures of astronauts or articles about space and putting them in a scrapbook.''

Dr. Thomas also said Mr. Glenn had a strong influence on him.

``I was in the first grade when he went up, and I remember going to our school gymnasium and watching him go up on a black-and-white TV,'' Dr. Thomas said. ``And when we went back to our classroom, I spent the rest of the day watching for his capsule to pass over Cleveland - not knowing that it wasn't going to do that.''

``There are so many role models we've had in Ohio - I was in high school when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, the Wright brothers, the aeronautical tradition in Ohio also had something to do with it,'' Dr. Thomas said. ``There's no good single answer. There've been a number of factors.''

Mr. Henricks agrees.

``I think it's because the education system of Ohio is good, and the Midwest work ethic.

``The people who grow up [in Ohio] don't see themselves limited much. You're not put in a class environment where you're expected not to succeed.

“In Ohio, especially small-town Ohio, you recognize the opportunity to make of your life whatever you choose.”

Mr. Glenn said it might have something to do with small towns.

``I think in a small town every kid growing up is free to sort of roam about a lot more,'' he said. ``They become a lot more independent. They're free to experience a little bit more. I think it is a good place to grow up.

``New Concord was a town that was very sensitive to patriotism and patriotic feeling, and every national holiday was celebrated there even though it was only a town of about 1,100 people and about 1,000 students at Muskingum College. It was a very patriotic town, and you grew up with a real appreciation of what it's like to be an American and be part of this country and make your own way in the world.

``I think the values I learned there stick with me to this day, and have probably been instrumental in my wanting to be involved in more and more as I went along through life.''



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