Capital Region Scrapbook: Missions possible (with photo gallery)

Fifty years ago this month, many Americans were space happy. On Tuesday, Feb. 20, 1962, astronaut Jo

Fifty years ago this month, many Americans were space happy.

On Tuesday, Feb. 20, 1962, astronaut John Glenn became the fifth person in space, the third American in space and the first American to orbit Earth aboard the Friendship 7 space capsule. Glenn circled the globe three times in a flight that lasted 4 hours and 55 minutes.

Glenn’s wild ride ended when Friendship 7 splashed into the Atlantic Ocean in the Bahamas at 2:43 p.m. Eastern time.

“All over the nation, crowds gathered, men cheered, women wept and prayed, eyes hung on television screens or ears stuck to radios as astronaut John Glenn was successfully picked up after his three orbits around the globe,” reported The Associated Press.

In Schenectady, people also became stamp happy. The city’s post office had become one of 300 offices in the nation to receive boxes of the blue, 4-cent “Project Mercury” stamps, which showed a space capsule in orbit above Earth.

It was all on the Q.T. Packages of the stamps, designed and printed under tight security, had been delivered to mail headquarters with strict orders: Postmasters were not to open them until Washington gave the high sign. The OK came the moment Glenn was out of the water. Post office personnel, with instructions given during pre-arranged conference calls, opened the boxes and put the stamps out for sale.

“Many post offices were crowded by people who had heard about the stamp issue on radio or television, though all did not have them,” wrote reporter Tommy Kahan in the Schenectady Gazette.

Time for snow and love

Space and stamp mission were joined by science, snow, sweetheart and showgirl missions. Two thousand people attended the fifth annual Science Fair at Oneida Junior High School.

February 1962 was also a great month for sled launches. The Capital Region received 341⁄2 inches of snow that month, a total that remains the record for February.

Valentine’s Day meant cards, roses, candy and parties for many. It meant extra money for Tommy Lutz, 17. The Bishop Gibbons High School student was working on a window display at Danny’s Confectionery on Elmer Avenue. He convinced owner Adelaide McVeigh that a live version of Cupid would attract bunches of customers. McVeigh bought the pitch. Tommy, wearing homemade, heart-shaped wings and red tights, entertained passers-by. And earned double-time pay for the stunt.

Categories: Life and Arts

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