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with The Project Mercury/Glenn Flight

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Mercury 6/Friendship 7 emblem
The Grand Turk Island Connection with
The Project Mercury/Glenn Flight

By Joseph J. Frasketi, Jr.

Project Mercury stamp, Scott#1193
The Astronaut was from Ohio.
The spacecraft was from Missouri,
Godspeed was on the lips of every American.

On Febuary 20, 1962, most Americans were glued to their television sets and the rest of the world to their radios to see and listen to the flight of the first American to orbit earth. I was one among many who had more important things to do at the far flung tracking stations and ships around the globe. We were keeping tabs on astronaut John Glenn as he orbited the earth and sending back vital and new information about space flight in those early days. From outer space the world could hear, "This is Friendship G and I feel fine.....oh, the view is tremendous."

I was located on Grand Turk Island, in the West Indies where the U.S.A. had a Project Mercury tracking station and I was working at the telemetry site operating electronics equipment. There was also a small but well staffed Mercury hospital on the island as astronaut John Glenn would be brought there after orbiting the earth and splashing down in nearby waters.

Below is an account from a letter that I wrote to my father five days after the launch of John Glenn that gives details of the happenings on Grand Turk Island in that eventful week.

Tuesday, 20 Febuary 1962
Col. Glenn launched into orbit three times around the earth, Grand Turk telemetry tracking him on every orbit. We could see his heart beat on our equipment from the signals coming from outer space but unfortunately we were not able to hear him talk as it would have interfered with our own communications and operations. Later we listened to news reports and taped broadcasts on the Voice of American radio station so we didn't miss too much. Col. Glenn arrived at Grand Turk Island about 9:30 p.m. but I wasn't down at the air strip to greet him; I was asleep in bed, as I had put in a very long day. We had arrived at the telemetry site many hours ahead of the scheduled launch to calibrate our equipment as well as participate in the flight readiness checkout of the whole Project Mercury tracking stystem around the world.

Wednesday, 21 February 1962
The aircraft carrier USS Randolph and two other smaller Navy ships were close by Grand Turk Island in the morning and the space capsule was off loaded and brought ashore. It was taken to the airstrip and loaded aboard a MATS (Military Air Transport System) aircraft to be shipped to Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. Later on in the day three more astronauts flew in here; they were Shepard, Grissom and Schirra. As they came in and were walking to the mess hall for chow, I was able to get their pictures. I also took pictures of the space capsule loading operation at the dock and also at the airstrip. Col. Glenn stayed in the Mercury hospital while the other three astronauts bunked in the barracks that I live in; their quarters are about four doors down the hallway.

Did you read about the astronauts saving a skin diver here? The skin diver is a buddy of mine and works out at Telemetry. Later on in the evening there was a party down at the Conch Club for Col. Glenn and everyone was invited. The astronauts showed up and were swamped by autograph seekers. I got my share of autographs too.

Thursday, 22 February 1962
There were various press conferences outside of the Mercury hospital throughout the day and newspaper people were here from all over the U.S. I attended a few of the press conferences to learn what is going on; that was the only way I could learn anything. I did work half a day though, but when I wasn't working I stayed around the Mercury hospital and my persistence paid off as I got more pictures of two additional astronauts who had arrived.

Later on, all of the astronauts, except Cooper, came out and posed for the photographers and TV men. I was right there with them snapping away and hope I have some good photographs. Astronaut Cooper who was at the Australian tracking station for the Mercury flight was still in flight, on the way back to the U.S. so I didn't get to meet him. Most of the day the astronauts stayed in the Mercury hospital for the debriefing of Col. Glenn and for the final phase of his physical checkup.

Friday, 23 February 1962
Vice President Johnson arrived approximately 4:30 a.m., about an hour earlier than expected, in a Jet Star, a ten-passenger type aircraft. He had breakfast at the mess hall with all the VIPs and the astronauts. A co-worker came and awoke me telling me that the Vice President was on the base, but we arrived at the mess hall a bit late to get any inside photographs. When all the VIPs came outside I was on hand for a photograph session. The Vice President and Col. Glenn were very friendly and posed for all of us. Johnson surprised us all by saying "you've been taking my picture all morning, why don't you men get around me and we'll have a picture taken together."

(Click on above image for an expanded view)

So we did with Col. Glenn and a few secret service men too. I am the one kneeling. Mostly we were all base employees and amateur photographers as the professional photographers had already caught a plane to Patrick Air Force Base so as to be there when the Vice President and Col. Glenn arrived.

While the VIPs took a tour of the Mercury hospital we all went to the airport to await their arrival. At the airport waiting area there was a large crowd of local townspeople; I would say about 200 natives and a few british dignitaries. When the Vice President arrived with Col. Glenn and the other VIPs, there was much handshaking and Vice President Johnson stole the show from Astronaut Glenn since he was a well known and experienced hand shaker. The crowd closed in on him wanting to shake his hand. But Col. Glenn was still the hero as the crowd cheered together and hip hip hurrah'ed him. Then all the VIPs got aboard the Jet Star and flew off to the U.S.A. Peace and quiet now prevails at Grand Turk Island once again. Now when Grand Turk is mentioned to someone in the states it will be recognized along with Astronaut Glenn.

I was able to obtain the group photograph taken of us with Vice President and Col. Glenn (shown above) and it is one of my prized possessions. I was disappointed to find out later, in reading local Florida newspapers, that Grand Turk Island was only mentioned briefly as a return point for the big news of Astronaut John Glenn's historic space flight. So the one big chance that this little island had to be spotlighted in a major news event was passed by.

There is a philatelic side to this story also. To commemorate John Glenn's splashdown and arrival at Grand Turk Island, another friend and I had made arrangements to have 40 to 50 covers cancelled at the Grand Turk Post Office if the flight was a success. These were later locally printed with a black word cachet headline reading "Space Man comes to Grand Turk Island Feb. 20, 1962," with a smaller word text reading "America's first orbital Astronaut John H. Glenn Jnr. arrived today after orbiting the earth 3 times and landing near Grand Turk Island." Since I knew that a U.S.A. Project Mercury stamp had also been issued, I left a space in the center of the cachet where one of these stamps could be placed. An equal number of U.S.A. Project Mercury first day covers were cacheted with the same cachet as on the Grand Turk Island covers. The covers were equally divided between my friend and me with a few given to the servicer and the printer.

Glenn autograph on Grand Turk 02/20/1962 cover
Cover autographed by John Glenn, Jr. after his flight

While the cachets on these covers do not state it, these are Grand Turk Island tracking station covers as well and it was the second tracking station cover which I prepared.

Turk & Caicos Islands postage stamps for the 10th annivesary of 
the Glenn flight
Scott#246, 247 and 248

For the tenth anniversary of the Mercury Glenn orbital flight, the Turks and Caicos Islands (Where Grand Turk Island is located) issued a set of four stamps (Scott 246-249) to commemorate this historic event. The 5 cent stamp shows a view of Cape Canaveral Florida, as Glenn's rocket leaves the launch pad. The 10 cent stamp shows Glenn's Friendship 7 space capsule in orbit. The 15 cent stamp shows a map of the Turks and Caicos Islands and Glenn's capsule splashdown. The 20 cent stamp shows the NASA Distinguished Service Medal presented to Col. John Glenn. These stamps were issued on February 21, 1972 (since Febuary 20 was a Sunday).

Turk & Caicos Islands postage stamp for the 10th annivesary of 
the Glenn flight
Scott #249

The above article first appeared in the Americal Topical Association journal Topical Time for May-June 1997 and reprinted by permission. It was also printed by permission in the Astro Space Stamp Society journal Orbit for October 1998.

Click here for the price list
Project Mercury/John Glenn (#1193) First Day Covers

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To see an exhibit prepared by Dennis Dillman of Project Mercury space covers that include the John Glenn flight, I recommend clicking here:
Project Mercury - To Put A Man In Space Exhibit
this exhibit appears on the
Space Topic Study Unit Web Site

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