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Blue Dot 219: Mercury Rising: Jeff Shesol's New Book Casts New Light On The Right Stuff

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NASA
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Mercury Atlas 6 Launch

Dave delves into some familiar territory for him, the early space program, but with some fresh takes on the space race with author Jeff Shesol. His new book, Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy and the New Battleground of the Cold War is an amazing journey back to a time when America was decidedly NOT first in space.

With President Kennedy newly occupying the White House in 1961, NASA's Mercury program is literally struggling to get off the ground and keep pace with the Soviet Union. With the April orbital flight of Yuri Gagarin, the US once again finds itself, as it had with the launch of Sputnik in 1957, in a very distant second place in space. Shesol, who was one of former President Clinton's West Wing speechwriters, delves deeply into the story with astronaut John Glenn at the center of the narrative.

Glenn has often been portrayed in print, film, and television as a one-dimensional all-American guy next door when in reality he was a fierce competitor in everything he did. And while the first flight into space for the US went to Alan B. Shepard, it was Glenn who rocketed to fame with the orbital flight of Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962.

Shesol shares his own passion for discovery in this story as he tells of unearthing previously unknown letters and audio tapes from Glenn's archives that reveal an astronaut that was convinced there was a very real possibility that he would not survive America's first attempt at putting an astronaut into Earth orbit.

Dave Schlom is the longtime host and creator of Blue Dot. From surfing to Voyager in interstellar space, rock guitar to orcas in our imperiled oceans, the topics on Blue Dot are as varied as the host’s interests and connections -- which are pretty limitless! An internationally respected space history journalist, Dave is also deeply fascinated by all aspects of the grand workings of nature’s awesome machinery on scales ranging from galactic to subatomic. And topics take in all aspects of the arts and sciences.
Matt Fidler is a producer and sound designer with over 15 years’ experience producing nationally distributed public radio programs. He has worked for shows such as Freakonomics Radio, Selected Shorts, Studio 360, The New Yorker Radio Hour and The Takeaway. In 2017, Matt launched the language podcast Very Bad Words, hitting the #28 spot in the iTunes podcast charts.