Was the space program worth the cost?

Ultimately, Schesol argues, Kennedy did not make the dramatically expanded space program out of genuine belief of its value, so much as a desire to elevate national prestige at a time when many Americans believed the Cold War. The Soviet Union had the upper hand in the war. In fact, the backward US effort did not pose any serious threat; There was hardly any connection between Moscow’s successes in space and its military capabilities. But Kennedy, Schesol suggested, understood the harmful symbolism of Soviet cosmonauts, freshened up by successful flights, parading triumphantly through Red Square while the American space program “churned into neutral”.

Presidential decision-making lies entirely in Chesol’s analytical wheelhouse. An expert in presidential oratory and one-time White House speechwriter for Bill Clinton, Shesol is the author of a well-known history of Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 plan to expand the Supreme Court and Lyndon Johnson’s bitter ties with Bobby Kennedy. ‘s plan. Yet “Mercury Rising” is at least as successful when it leaves the White House and zeroes in on the other, less familiar figure at the center of the story, john glen.

Shesol dutifully traces the arc of Glenn’s life from his humble origins in small-town Ohio to his 24-year career in the United States Senate. Much of the book, however, describes the ups and downs of Glenn’s struggles to become the first American to circumnavigate Earth, an ambition that culminated in the triumphant flight of his Friendship 7 capsule on February 20, 1962. . The achievement, which came after 10 postponements due to technical glitches or bad weather, brought immense joy and, Schesol insisted, gave the country “back to its swagger”.

Glenn’s early experiences made him a perfect candidate for this cathartic role. The son of hardworking parents, he exuded the virtues of middle-class America. He taught Sunday school, married his childhood sweetheart, and raised children. He enlisted in 1942 and, as a Marine fighter pilot, flew dozens of combat missions in the Pacific during World War II and in Korea. In 1957, he gained national fame for piloting a supersonic jet from coast to coast in record time. The faith, patriotism and future potential surrounding this “everyman superman” in Chesol’s memorable phrase, right at the time the newly established National Aeronautics and Space Administration selected him as one of seven people Will be trained for the country’s first training. Manned space flights.

Still, securing a leading role in Project Mercury, Schesol writes, was hardly convincing. Just as Kennedy understood the power of symbols, Glenn knew that the image was valued just as much in the judgments about which men received plum assignments. To ignite his opportunities, he cultivated journalists and fine-tuned the persona of the “o-shucks, homespun hero” that NASA wanted him to be, Shesol explains.

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