NASA honors John Glenn and Project Mercury workers

NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of astronaut John Glenn's historic orbital flight at Cape Canaveral, Fla., this weekend, ahead of the actual anniversary of the flight on Monday, the Associated Press reported.

On Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth with a five-hour flight aboard the Friendship 7 capsule, Reuters reported. Ten months earlier, the Soviet Union had launched cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into space.

NASA officials, politicians, astronauts and about 125 retired workers from NASA’s Project Mercury joined Glenn, 90, at Kennedy Space Center on Saturday, the AP reported. During the day, the workers – now in their 70s and 80s – visited Launch Complex 14, the site of the Friendship 7 launch.

"You are the people that made it happen. And I'm so glad to see that so many of you are still around," Glenn said in a private reception with the Project Mercury veterans, USA Today reported.

Glenn and Scott Carpenter, 86, the one other surviving member of NASA’s original Mercury 7 astronaut team, snapped photographs with the retirees in front of a black curtain with a model of a Mercury-Atlas rocket before speaking at a ceremony on Saturday night, the AP reported.

At the ceremony, Glenn expressed regret that the US Space Shuttle program had ended. "I regret that that is the way things have developed," Glenn said, according to Reuters. "We spent over $100 billion dollars putting the space station up there. It's too bad in the previous administration the decision was made to end the shuttle, so now we have to go somewhere else to even get up to our station.”

Carpenter told Reuters he agreed. “There are lots of reasons behind our current predicament. But what it boils down to is the simple fact that when John and I went to work for this country, the United States was recognized around the world as a can-do nation. We have become viewed around the planet as a can't-do nation and I deplore that."

On Monday, Ohio State University will host a gala honoring Glenn, the AP reported.

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