When John Glenn was preparing for launch on the first U.S orbital spaceflight, he realized that his capsule would be passing over some parts of the world that might be inhabited by aborigines — native tribes cut off from civilization and unaware that humans were flying in space.
“I was thinking that if I had to make an emergency re-entry and came down in one of those areas, well … The people on the ground might hear a sonic boom, look up, and here comes a little black dot. It sets down, the hatch blows off the side and out steps this thing in a silver suit,” Glenn told reporters during a press conference marking the 50th anniversary of his flight.
“You’re going to be one of three things — God, chief or dead. So you better have some means of communicating.”
Glenn said he wrote out little messages, such as “Big friend,” and “Take me to your leader,” and had them translated into some of the more primitive languages of the world that were likely to be used in those areas he would fly over.
“I had them translated into phonetic language that I could use to try to get this message across in the unlikely event I had to come down in one of these areas,” Glenn said.
After three orbits around the planet, Glenn’s Friendship 7 capsule splashed down as planned in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Bermuda.
Images: John Glenn, then and now. Credit: NASA