In 1962, Senator John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in a one-man capsule named Friendship 7, a feat that launched America’s Space Program into the global competition of space exploration. Now, students, faculty and staff can get a better idea of what that first orbit might have felt like as a replica of the capsule temporarily sits in Hale ‘Imiloa, the brainchild of WCC student Roger Garrett.
Garrett said he dreamed of being an astronaut and was always fascinated by the engineering programs at NASA.
“When I went off to college, I started out in the aerospace engineering program at Northrop Institute of Technology, with the hope of working for NASA or ideally to actually become an astronaut,” he said. “That didn’t work out as planned. I graduated with a degree in mathematics and ended up with a career in software engineering. I decided that even if I couldn’t be part of the actual space missions, I could at least build my very own Mercury space capsule.”
According to Garrett, the replica took two years to produce. He started the process by crafting different sections of the capsule and then put it all together in the end.
“The overall model is made of several sub-assemblies, each such sub-assembly consisting of a set of the cast parts and supported on the interior by wooden sections bonded to the interior,” Garrett said.
Using just rigid foam shaped by small hot-wire tools or by hand as well as cast molds also made by hand, Garrett made the entire replica in the small living room of his apartment.
While Garrett’s replica only had to travel from his home to WCC, the real Friendship 7 traveled 81,000 miles during Glenn’s nearly 5-hour flight, in which it circled the Earth three times.
Glenn attended many technical institutions to obtain the training to become an experienced pilot and engineer.
He flew 59 combat missions in World War II and 90 missions in two tours during the Korean War.
After NASA selected him for the Mercury team, he went to NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in 1962, where he became a backup pilot for other astronauts and even helped design spacecrafts that contributed to the creation of the Apollo program, which landed the first Americans–Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin–on the moon.
Upon reentry to the earth’s atmosphere during his own historic flight, the heat created by the friction during Friendship 7’s descent caused a malfunction in the autopilot, and so Glenn safely piloted the landing himself.
Garrett’s replica of the capsule will remain in Hale ‘Imiloa for at least another six months.
by Hannah Bailey, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter