In this episode of Talks at GS, Jeff Shesol, historian and author of Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy, and the New Battleground of the Cold War, discusses how the early years of the US space program helped shape President John Kennedy’s presidency and define American leadership during the Cold War; the story of John Glenn’s historic orbit around Earth; and how scientific, political and military considerations for Project Mercury remain relevant to US space flight today.
On the Mercury Seven: “There was a sense that these were new American heroes, even before they'd done anything. In fact, Wally Schirra, one of the Mercury Seven turns to the others and he said, ‘Well, you haven't even done anything yet.’ But it didn't matter on a certain level because...they were prepared to do something brave and unprecedented and ostensibly in the interest of national security.”
On president Kennedy’s outlook on space: “When Kennedy ran for president, he came out strong on space and he said, ‘if the Soviets control space, they will control Earth. And if we are second in space, in the eyes of the world, we will be second in science and technology, in military power and in the struggle between freedom and totalitarianism.’
The episode was recorded on June 23, 2021.