Into That Silent Sea: Trailblazers of the Space Era, 1961-1965

By Francis French; Colin Burgess | Go to book overview
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8. A Change of Attitude

Circumstances do not make the man, they reveal him.

James Allen

It could almost have been an action scene straight from The Right Stuff, a movie that has attracted a cult following since it was first released in 1983. An overlaid caption tells us that we are at Cape Canaveral the day before the planned Mercury flight of acclaimed astronaut Gordon Cooper—the self-professed “greatest pilot you ever saw,” according to the movie’s scriptwriters. We can see that it is a warm, languid Florida spring day as we take in a sweeping panorama of the launch facilities and military air base at the Cape circa 1963. Occasional clouds billow in a brilliant azure sky, while closer to the ground a mild heat haze lends a soft shimmer to a near-barren landscape, dotted with slash pines and palmetto shrubs.

Suddenly, on the horizon, a dancing, silvery dot approaches in a wide, sweeping turn. The glimmering object quickly comes into focus; it is a sleek, low-flying jet fighter, an F-102 out of Patrick Air Force Base, twenty miles away. The airplane’s wings, now flying level with the ground, seem to brush the fringes of black mangroves growing along the estuaries as it rapidly approaches, hurtling toward the camera, tearing a relentless, eerily silent path over the sparse Cape wilderness. Finally reaching his target area, the pilot grins with impish delight and kicks in full afterburners. The powerful jet’s needle nose rises into the sky, and then a massive, deafening blanket of sound catches up to us, consuming everything in its path. In an instant the audience is flayed with an apocalyptic scream, as the pilot rips his beast into a near-vertical climb.

We moviegoers would be transfixed in silent awe as the banshee howl of jet engines slams through the windows and doors of an administration

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