“Zero Gs and feeling fine!” With those five words Mercury astronaut John Herschel Glenn, Jr. signaled that his spacecraft, Friendship 7, had entered its first of three orbits at approximately 2:52 p.m. on February 20, 1962. Four hours and fifty-five minutes later, his capsule would splash down and Glenn would become an iconic national hero – the first American to obit the earth. He would go on to serve 25 years in the U.S. Senate, and enter space history again in 1998 when, at the age of 77, he became the oldest person to fly in space on Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-95). Along with Scott Carpenter, John Glenn is the last surviving Project Mercury astronaut. He continues to be an outspoken advocate of America’s continued exploration of space. There is no doubt that Glenn’s flight fifty years ago paved the way for the moonwalk that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would make almost seven and a half years later.
Those who lived through those days remember that the astronauts were, to put it in today’s parlance, “A-list” celebrities. They received extensive media coverage and often were honored with tickertape parades on Broadway upon their return from space. While there were many spin-offs from the space program that have made modern life better, perhaps the most important is that the feats of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts inspired a generation of children to pursue technology-based careers in science and engineering. After the Apollo moonwalks and with the advent of the shuttle program in the 1980’s spaceflight became “routine” and public interest in the space program generally waned.
While Bucks County is rich in early American history, local citizens are just starting to learn that before taking to the heavens Glenn and the rest of the NASA astronauts from those early programs came to Bucks County to prepare for the rigors of space flight on the Johnsville Centrifuge, the largest and most powerful human centrifuge ever built. As a matter of fact, the centrifuge gondola (capsule) used to train Glenn and other early astronauts is on public display at the Penn State Anechoic Chamber at 300 W. Bristol Road in Warminster, having returned from a Smithsonian storage facility where it was hidden from public view for over 45 years. Plans are in the works to begin preservation work on this important artifact.
The Johnsville Centrifuge was just one of dozens of labs at the former Naval Air Development Center (NADC) in Warminster, PA where much of the technology we enjoy today was developed and tested. The Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum is a small group of dedicated volunteers working to preserve the legacy of Bucks County’s connection to the space program and to tell the story of the high tech work done at NADC, including refinements to GPS and the development of light sensitive lenses that are part of our everyday life. We believe that our area’s involvement in the space program can serve as an inspirational springboard to encourage our youth to explore the careers in technology that are so vital to our country’s future.
We encourage readers of this to use the 50th anniversary of the Friendship 7 mission as a conversation starter with their children or grandchildren. Ask them if they know who John Glenn is and what they know about the space program. Share with them what you remember about growing up in the space age. If you are old enough, tell them where you where when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. You might be surprised; you may find out they have an interest in space and might even want to become an astronaut.
With today’s “heroes” often coming from the fields of sports and entertainment, there are very few, if any, high profile role models in today’s culture to encourage children to explore science and technology careers. Additionally, local, state and federal education budgets continue to be cut in the face of mounting deficits. The museum, along with its sponsors and partners, sees it as their mission to inspire the youth of today. This past month the museum hosted the students of the Commonwealth Connections Academy and their mobile classroom and participated in the Quarry Hill Elementary School Science Fair. It continues to develop its educational outreach programs.
We salute Col. Glenn on the 50th Anniversary of his milestone mission and thank him, and all active military and veterans, for his dedicated service to our country.Michael Maguire President Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum
Dear Friend of the Museum,
It is now time to look ahead to 2012, but before we do lets reflect on the accomplishments of the past several months. As we look back on 2011 we realize that we have had a very good year indeed. Our success is entirely due to our friends, supporters, sponsors and our tireless volunteers. A few highlights from 2011 include:
- The return of the Mercury 7 Gondola to Warminster on May 5th coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s historic flight. The gondola was held at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum’s storage yard in Suitland, Maryland for the past 47 years. Special thanks to Comcast and the History Channel for making the move possible.
- A wonderful Spring Gala held in May and highlighted by two special guests, Art Guntner who assisted the Mercury Astronauts and who rode the centrifuge over 350 times himself related his unique oral history. He was joined by Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer for the Fels Planetarium at the Franklin Institute who delivered an inspiring story of his own.
- The return of the Iron Maiden in August brought out many who worked with Flannigan Grey when he set his near unbeatable world record with the device in 1958.
- A wonderful time at Warminster Day in September where we had an opportunity to display some exhibits in our “Museum in the Park” that are on loan from the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum in Maryland. We were also fortunate to have the weather cooperate for a flyover by a Navy F-18 that thanks to the coordination and support of Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick. The pilot was called in by NADC’s own Bob Campbell.
- A special “friendraising” evening on December 8th at the Campbell Classic Auto Museum in Doylestown where supporters got to see some of the centrifuge couches that we have acquired from the National Air and Space Museum.
We could not have done any of these things or achieved any of our goals in 2011 without volunteers or supporters like you who have given so much of their time to make the museum the success that it has become.
We look forward to a busy and exciting 2012 as we continue to raise funds to preserve the Mercury 7 Gondola, make plans to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of John Glenn’s historic orbital flight in February and hold our Third Annual Spring Gala in April. Our education programs kick off in January with a visit form a traveling classroom followed shortly by our first participation in a science fair in February. We look forward to another special year as we create a place that honors the history of innovation at NADC and inspires our youth to reach for the stars in all that they do.
Thank you for your support.
Johnsville Centrifuge & Science Museum
After spending the last 47 years safely stored at the National Air & Space Museum’s Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland, the original gondola of the Johnsville Centrifuge will be coming home to Warminster on May 5th, the 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s historic flight. The gondola’s return is being made possible as the result of a grant from History Channel in partnership with Comcast as part of the network’s Save Our History® campaign dedicated to historic preservation and history education.
The festivities are set to include a “Welcome Home” ceremony at 12:45 PM on May 5th at the Bucks County Visitor’s Center at 3207 Street Road in Bensalem (in front of the PARX casino). The gondola will be at the Visitors Center between Noon and 2. At 2PM the gondola will head up Street Road under police escort and will work its way to the Penn State Anechoic Chamber located on Bristol Road at the Warminster Community Park where it will be offloaded.
Everyone is invited to come out and witness this historic occasion. Tell your friends and have them come out too. Keep an eye out for more details in the coming days.
It has been 10 months since The Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum introduced its vision to the public. Our April open house, which featured Mercury Astronaut Scott Carpenter, was a great success and allowed us to present our goal of providing a first class science and engineering education center to the community. These plans have inspired dozens of volunteers to join us and prompted thousands of dollars in donations.
The museum immediately began its work and cleared the building of debris and has undertaken its first major construction project by removing 42 tons of concrete from the ceiling. Dedicated researchers have uncovered many exciting facts about the center and their exploration of the building discovered a few significant artifacts such as some original Mercury era couches and the “Mayo Tank”. We have retained an architect and a model maker who have produced exciting ideas for the use of the space. We have partnered with many organizations such as the Bucks County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Warminster Tricentennial Committee. We look forward to the months and years ahead as we forge our role as an integral part of the community.
We have discovered some of the extraordinary expenses involved in this and for all our successes we also experienced limitations this winter as we were unable to provide heat for our Sunday tours. I am very proud of our dedicated volunteers who endured cold temperatures while continuing to give of their time.
As is the case with many non-profit organizations, The Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum has been impacted by the current economic climate. We receive no federal or state funding, and are wholly reliant on revenue from attendance at museum events, contributions from the public at large and donations from local businesses. We certainly appreciate the generosity of our current supporters however we have reached a critical point in our short existence and are in danger of not fulfilling our goals. We are making an appeal to the public and local businesses to help us. We believe that the Johnsville Centrifuge and the legacy of NADC’s technological innovation is worth saving. From the reactions of visitors, we know it is important to the community as well. Contributions of any size are appreciated. We would also like to find major donors and local businesses that are able to take a leadership role and help us succeed in our mission of creating a world class museum to inspire our youth to pursue an education in science and technology. If you are able to help, please contact me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 267-250-8841. Thank you.
President, Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum
P.S. We welcome the public to support us by attending our March 27th X-15 Event, our April 7th Apollo 13 40th Anniversary Event, or our May 7th Gala.