Flagstaff Welcomes the Next Nine
On January 9, 1963, the Arizona Daily Sun reported that Mercury heroes John Glenn and Scott Carpenter would accompany the Next Nine on a training session in northern Arizona the following week. Traveling from NASA’s Manned Spaceflight Center (known today as the Johnson Space Center), the group would study geological features such as Meteor Crater, a good analog to the lunar surface.
The astronauts would also learn about the lunar mapping efforts going on in Flagstaff. At Lowell Observatory, the United States Air Force’s Aeronautical Chart and Information Center (ACIC) rented the Observatory’s 24-inch Clark refractor to make geographic maps of the lunar surface. This was accomplished when a team of observers first noted lunar surface features, which airbrush artists then rendered into maps.
Building on this effort, Flagstaff’s newly established United States Geological Survey Astrogeology Branch was constructing a new 30-inch telescope on Anderson Mesa, southwest of town, to create lunar geological maps. Scientists would use the ACIC maps as a base and then add in geological features as observed through the new telescope.
On January 14, the proposed Flagstaff training session was in doubt due to winter weather that dumped snow in the area, obscuring much of the terrain that the astronauts were scheduled to study. Plus, scheduling conflicts meant that Glenn and Carpenter would not be making the trip. However that afternoon Charles Marshall of the U.S.G.S., in charge of the mapping efforts with the new 30-inch telescope, surveyed the Flagstaff area and predicted that the snow would melt enough by the next day to allow training.
Flagstaff officials thus prepared to greet the astronauts the following morning, with Flagstaff Mayor Rollin Wheeler and Chamber of Commerce president James Potter leading the welcoming party. The astronauts would arrive via two different planes landing at the Flagstaff Municipal Airport – they typically never traveled together so that the entire astronaut crew would not be wiped out in the event of an accident. Thus some of the astronauts would arrive at 7:38 a.m. via Frontier Airlines and the others at 7:42 a.m. riding a Bonanza Airlines flight.
Wednesday morning dawned very cold, and when about 40 Flagstaff dignitaries and scientists met the astronauts at the airport just after 7:30 a.m., the mercury read -5 degrees. Wheeler formally declared that January 16 was “Space Age Day” in Flagstaff and welcomed the astronauts plus the half dozen NASA officials that accompanied them.