I was just a little kid, but with my mother’s help, I wrote congratulatory letters to my astronaut heroes Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom. Each responded by sending me an autographed photograph of himself—and I was hooked on the space program. The bravery, the adventure, the romance!
It was fifty years ago today that Gus Grissom became the second American astronaut in space. And as the shuttle Atlantis is safely tucked away and the shuttle program becomes history, I offer a tribute: John Gillespie Magee’s “High Flight.” You may remember some of the lines from Ronald Reagan’s speech at the time of the Challenger disaster.
HIGH FLIGHTOh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew—
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
— John Gillespie Magee, Jr.