An Original Rocket Scientist

The concrete is torn apart now, and the once-strong steel crumbling with rust, but Complex 13 -- John Glenn's old launch pad -- is hallowed ground nonetheless, a monument to the early days of the Mercury missions and the men who made it happen.

"It's a very nostalgic feeling cause this used to be a beehive of activity," rocket scientist George Page told CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather.

Page was there from the start, one of the men responsible for launching the Atlas rocket that propelled John Glenn's tiny capsule beyond the earth's pull.

Then, the technology was primitive. Without the benefit of a television feed, Page resorted to monitoring the launch through a periscope from beneath a concrete-reinforced bunker.

"If anything untoward occurred, like an engine explosion or something like that, my job was to tell 'em, 'Abort,'" Page explained.

That was 36 years ago. Today, the old Mercury Control Center remains seemingly frozen in time, a relic with well-outmoded mechanisms.

"Back then we thought we had the latest of everything," Page recalled. "When you compare it with what's out there today, it's sadly lacking, there's no question about that."

The Mercury launchpad.

Under intense pressure to beat the Russians, NASA worked with unrelenting resolve, and a recognition that they would occasionally stumble.

"Failure was accepted as part of learning, though it'd kind of ruin your day," said Page.

They had more than a few bad days. The Atlas rocket was nowhere near as reliable as today's shuttle, and one of every three Atlas launches failed. But John Glenn did not -- he made it to the heavens and back, thanks to pioneers like Page, who was once a young man.

"We did party pretty hard, there's no doubt about that," Page laughed. "I still don't remember which swimming pool I got thrown into."

Reported By Dan Rather