So, John Glenn was Americas first astronaut into orbit. For a time he was Hero Number One, and apparently considered so important for PR that he was essentially blackballed from going back into space for fear that were he to die it would’ve trashed national morale. The end result was that he didn’t get to fly into space again until he was an old man.
But consider another course of events. He flies to orbit, comes back a hero… and stays a flying astronaut. In that case, chances are good he would’ve gone up on Gemini and an Apollo (not necessarily the first lunar lander, but one of ’em).
My question to ponder: let’s say on his first mission to the moon – call it “Apollo 4,” because “Apollo 1” didn’t burn up on the pad Because Reasons – something goes wrong and the crew is lost. America’s Greatest Hero dies in the course of the mission, out in deep space.
OK, we can all agree that this would be a bad thing on a human level. But from a *political* point of view… would losing the Great Hero and two Red Shirts out in space, rather than a trio of Red Shirts, have *necessarily* trashed the space program? When Challenger was lost, the crew were, as far as the public was concerned, a bunch of folks nobody knew (and one supercargo teacher that a lot of folks knew). Certainly not mid-60’s John Glenn level of celebrity. But even so, they all became national heroes instantly, and their memory helped to keep the Shuttle program going. So it seems to me that losing a national hero on the level of Glenn would *not* be an inevitable death knell to the program, but perhaps a *spur* to the program.