Fifty years ago, John Glenn sat in a little metal capsule rocketing around the Earth, while down on the ground NASA scientists thought his eyes might change shape.

Former astronaut Steve Lindsey, who flew in the much more advanced space shuttle, said Glenn’s chances of surviving that mission were akin to a game of Russian roulette.

It was the great unknown in those days and NASA wasn’t sure how the human body would cope to prolonged exposure to microgravity. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had already orbited the Earth once and two Americans had poked their heads into the void, all surviving relatively intact. But Glenn was up there for five hours and he had to make a tricky landing.

NASA also wasn’t certain where Glenn would end up, and, MSNBC reports, the spaceman learned a few aboriginal greetings should he drop down in Australia:

“You land, and the side blows off, and out steps this thing in a silver suit. You’re going to be either like the god-king or dead pretty quick,” Glenn said. “So I wanted a message for these people.”

So linguists at the Library of Congress translated a basic message of peace and friendship for Glenn, arming him with a few phrases in various aboriginal languages should the need arise.


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