John A. Powers

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John A. Powers

John A. "Shorty" Powers.jpg

1962 NASA portrait
Birth name John Anthony Powers
Nickname(s) Shorty Powers
Born(1922-08-22)August 22, 1922
Toledo, Ohio, U.S.
Died December 31, 1979(1979-12-31) (aged 57)
Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.
BuriedPhoenix, Arizona, U.S.
Allegiance United States
Service/branch Seal of the US Air Force.svg U.S. Air Force
Rank US-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant colonel
Unit 349th Troop Carrier Group (WWII)
13th Bombardment Squadron (Korean War)
Awards Bronze Star
Air Medal
Distinguished Flying Cross
Other work Project Mercury public affairs officer

John Anthony Powers (August 22, 1922 December 31, 1979), better known as Shorty Powers, was an American public affairs officer for NASA from 1959 to 1963 during Project Mercury. A U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and war veteran, he was known as the "voice of the astronauts," the "voice of Mercury Control," and the "eighth astronaut." He received his nickname for his 5-foot, 6-inch (1.68 m) height.

NASA space-related agency of the United States government

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.

Project Mercury the first human spaceflight program of the United States

Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight program of the United States, running from 1958 through 1963. An early highlight of the Space Race, its goal was to put a man into Earth orbit and return him safely, ideally before the Soviet Union. Taken over from the US Air Force by the newly created civilian space agency NASA, it conducted twenty unmanned developmental flights, and six successful flights by astronauts. The program, which took its name from Roman mythology, cost $2.2 billion adjusted for inflation. The astronauts were collectively known as the "Mercury Seven", and each spacecraft was given a name ending with a "7" by its pilot.

Lieutenant colonel (United States) U.S. military officer rank just above the rank of major and just below the rank of colonel

In the United States Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force, a lieutenant colonel is a field-grade military officer rank just above the rank of major and just below the rank of colonel. It is equivalent to the naval rank of commander in the other uniformed services.



Powers was born August 22, 1922, to first generation Welsh immigrant parents in Toledo, Ohio. Powers father's last name was actually Power, however, upon signing the immigration documents, Power became Powers. When Powers was an infant his family moved to Downers Grove, Illinois [1] where he was a cheerleader at Downers Grove North High School, from which he graduated in 1941. After graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 and became a C-46 and C-47 pilot with the 349th Troop Carrier Group. He was one of six pilots who volunteered to learn the technique of snatching fully loaded troop gliders off the ground, and spent the end of World War II ferrying gasoline in cargo planes to Gen. George Patton's command in Germany. [2]

Toledo, Ohio City in Ohio, United States

Toledo is a city in and the county seat of Lucas County, Ohio, United States. Toledo is in northwest Ohio, at the western end of Lake Erie bordering the state of Michigan. The city was founded in 1833 on the west bank of the Maumee River, and originally incorporated as part of Monroe County, Michigan Territory. It was re-founded in 1837, after conclusion of the Toledo War, when it was incorporated in Ohio.

Downers Grove, Illinois Village in Illinois, United States

Downers Grove is a village in DuPage County, Illinois, United States. It was founded in 1832 by Pierce Downer, whose surname serves as the eponym for the village. It is a south-western suburb of Chicago in the I-55 Corridor

Downers Grove North High School

Downers Grove North High School, or DGN, and locally referred to as "Downers North" or "North", is a public four-year high school located near the corner of Main Street and Ogden Avenue in Downers Grove, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago, in the United States. It is part of Community High School District 99, which also includes Downers Grove South High School. The North campus draws students from Downers Grove, and small sections of Woodridge, Oak Brook, and Westmont.

Powers left the service in January 1947; but was recalled to active duty in December 1948 and flew as part of the Berlin Airlift, making 185 round-trip flights. He later volunteered for the Korean War. He flew 55 night missions in B-26 bombers with the 13th Bombardment Squadron and received the Bronze Star Medal, the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross and a combat promotion to Major. [2]

Korean War 1950–1953 war between North Korea and South Korea

The Korean War was a war between North Korea and South Korea. The war began on 25 June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea following a series of clashes along the border.

Douglas A-26 Invader family of attack bomber aircraft

The Douglas A-26 Invader is an American twin-engined light bomber and ground attack aircraft. Built by Douglas Aircraft Company during World War II, the Invader also saw service during several major Cold War conflicts. A limited number of highly modified United States Air Force aircraft served in Southeast Asia until 1969. It was a fast aircraft capable of carrying a large bomb load. A range of guns could be fitted to produce a formidable ground-attack aircraft.

13th Bomb Squadron

The 13th Bomb Squadron is a squadron of the United States Air Force. It is assigned to the 509th Operations Group, Air Force Global Strike Command, stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. The squadron is equipped with the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber.

Following Korea, Powers bounced around the Air Force, helping establish the first Community Relations Program in 1955. After being assigned to the personal staff of Maj. Gen. Bernard Schriever with the Air Research Development Command in Los Angeles, he handled the public dissemination of information related to the Air Force's ballistic missile program.

In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, major general is a two-star general-officer rank, with the pay grade of O-8. Major general ranks above brigadier general and below lieutenant general. A major general typically commands division-sized units of 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers. Major general is equivalent to the two-star rank of rear admiral in the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard, and is the highest-permanent rank during peacetime in the uniformed-services. Higher ranks are technically-temporary ranks linked to specific positions, although virtually all officers promoted to those ranks are approved to retire at their highest earned rank.

Los Angeles City in California

Los Angeles, officially the City of Los Angeles and often known by its initials L.A., is the most populous city in California, the second most populous city in the United States, after New York City, and the third most populous city in North America. With an estimated population of four million, Los Angeles is the cultural, financial, and commercial center of Southern California. The city is known for its Mediterranean climate, ethnic diversity, Hollywood and the entertainment industry, and its sprawling metropolis. Los Angeles is the largest city on the West Coast of North America.

Project Mercury

Powers sits between Mercury astronauts John Glenn (left) and Alan Shepard at a 1961 news conference at Cape Canaveral Glenn, Powers, Shepard.jpg
Powers sits between Mercury astronauts John Glenn (left) and Alan Shepard at a 1961 news conference at Cape Canaveral

Powers' experience with public affairs caught the attention of the newly formed NASA, and he was detailed to NASA's Space Task Group in April 1959 as its public affairs officer at the request of T. Keith Glennan, NASA's first administrator. [3] Very early on April 12, 1961, John G. Warner, a UPI rewrite-man in Washington, D.C., roused Powers from sleep at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia seeking comment on the flight of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first person in space. Powers replied, in part, "We're all asleep down here," which made headlines. [2]

Public affairs generally refer to the building and development of relations between an organization and politicians, governments and other decision-makers.

Space Task Group Group of NASA engineers working on the manned spaceflight program starting in 1958

The Space Task Group was a working group of NASA engineers created in 1958, tasked with managing America's manned spaceflight programs. Headed by Robert Gilruth and based at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, it managed Project Mercury and follow-on plans. After President John F. Kennedy set the goal in 1961 for the Apollo Program to land men on the Moon, NASA decided a much larger organization and a new facility was required to perform the Task Group's function, and it was transformed into the Manned Spacecraft Center, located in Houston, Texas.

T. Keith Glennan NASA administrator

Thomas Keith Glennan was the first Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, serving from August 19, 1958 to January 20, 1961.

He served as mission commentator for the six manned Mercury flights, introducing "A-OK" into the American vocabulary to signify procedures during the missions had proceeded as planned. He claimed astronaut Alan Shepard first used the expression during his Freedom 7 flight, but communication transcripts later showed he had not. [4] In The Right Stuff , Tom Wolfe wrote that Powers had borrowed it "from NASA engineers who used it during radio transmission tests because the sharper sound of A cut through the static better than O". [5]

Alan Shepard American astronaut

Rear Admiral Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. was an American astronaut, naval aviator, test pilot, and businessman. In 1961 he became the first American to travel into space, and in 1971 he walked on the Moon.

<i>The Right Stuff</i> (book) book by Tom Wolfe

The Right Stuff is a 1979 book by Tom Wolfe about the pilots engaged in U.S. postwar research with experimental rocket-powered, high-speed aircraft as well as documenting the stories of the first Project Mercury astronauts selected for the NASA space program. The Right Stuff is based on extensive research by Wolfe, who interviewed test pilots, the astronauts and their wives, among others. The story contrasts the "Mercury Seven" and their families with test pilots such as Chuck Yeager, who was considered by many contemporaries as the best of them all, but who was never selected as an astronaut.

Tom Wolfe American author and journalist

Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr. was an American author and journalist widely known for his association with New Journalism, a style of news writing and journalism developed in the 1960s and 1970s that incorporated literary techniques.

Powers enjoyed the limelight, and was accused of scheduling news conferences so he could appear live on national television and occasionally twisting the facts. For example, he told reporters the day before Gus Grissom's flight that the astronaut had gone fishing that day and had cooked and eaten his catch, which would have violated his pre-flight diet. [6]

Manned Spacecraft Center Director Robert Gilruth announced Powers' reassignment on July 26, 1963, reportedly following a dispute with NASA Headquarters over handling publicity for the final Mercury flight. [7] Powers objected to the HQ decision to release the mission's 22-orbit flight plan in advance. [8] He was succeeded by Paul Haney on September 1, and Powers soon resigned.

Later years

Powers retired from the Air Force in 1964 and opened a public relations firm in Houston. He became part owner of KMSC-FM in Clear Lake, Texas (the call letters standing for the Manned Spacecraft Center), where he anchored live coverage of Gemini and Apollo flights, distributed to radio stations across the country. He also served a spokesman for products including the 1965 Oldsmobile Delta 88 (touting its "Super Rocket V-8" engine), Carrier air conditioners, Triptone motion sickness pills, and Tareyton cigarettes (which claimed to use the same charcoal-activated filter used for the astronauts' oxygen supply). [9] He lectured extensively about the space program, and served as emcee at the dedication of the Clear Lake Theatre Time Capsule on April 20, 1966. In 1967, he authored a newspaper column syndicated nationally by Field Enterprises called "Space Talk", answering readers' questions.

Powers was married three times and was the father of three children. [6] He married Sara Kay McSherry, women's editor of the Indianapolis News , on August 7, 1965. [10]

Powers moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1978, and died there at his home on December 31, 1979 at age 57 from a gastrointestinal hemorrhage related to chronic alcoholism. [7]

Film and TV

Powers appeared as himself in the 1963 episode entitled "Junior Astronaut" of CBS's sitcom, Dennis the Menace , starring Jay North in the title role. [11]

He was the narrator for the 1966 Jerry Lewis space comedy, Way...Way Out .

He is referenced in the 1988 cult film, Miracle Mile , by actor Kurt Fuller when, as Soviet warheads appear over Los Angeles, he states, "Talk me down, Shorty Powers".

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  1. "Shorty Powers Preaches Peace". The Toledo Blade. Vol. 135. May 12, 1970. p. 52. Retrieved June 28, 2015 via
  2. 1 2 3 "Calm Voice from Space". TIME . Time Inc. March 2, 1962. Retrieved June 28, 2015. (Subscription required (help)).
  3. DeGroot, Gerard J. Dark Side of the Moon: the Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest, New York University Press (2006), p. 96. ISBN   9780814721131
  4. Swenson, Loyd S. Jr.; Grimwood, James M.; Alexander, Charles C. (1989). "This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, Chap. 10: 'Ham Paves the Way'". Footnote 37. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). Retrieved June 22, 2015. In reporting the Freedom 7 flight, the press attributed the term to Astronaut Shepard, ... A replay of the flight voice communications tape disclosed that Shepard himself did not use the term. . It was Col. John A. "Shorty" Powers ... Tecwyn Roberts of STG and Capt. Henry E. Clements of the Air Force had used "A.OK" frequently in reports written more than four months before the Shepard flight. ... Be that as it may, Powers, "the voice of Mercury Control," by his public use of "A.OK," made those three letters a universal symbol meaning "in perfect working order."
  5. Wolfe, Tom (July 1, 1979). The Right Stuff. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 215. ISBN   9780374250324 . Retrieved June 28, 2015 via Google Books.
  6. 1 2 Benedict, Howard (January 3, 1980). "Voice of the Astronauts' Shorty Powers Dead". Observer–Reporter (Vol. 172, No. 80002). The Associated Press. p. D-3. Retrieved June 28, 2015 via
  7. 1 2 "'Shorty' Powers, 'voice of the astronauts,' is found dead at 57". St. Petersburg Times (Vol. 198, No. 63). January 3, 1980. pp. 1 &16A. Retrieved June 28, 2015 via
  8. "Shorty Powers Losing Job". Daytona Beach Morning Journal . Vol. XXXVIII (No. 178). UP. July 27, 1963. p. 5. Retrieved June 28, 2015 via
  9. McGarry, Greg (October 8, 1970). "Powers Rejects Space Critics Opposed to Manned Flights". Schenectady Gazette . p. 49. Retrieved June 28, 2015 via
  10. AP wirephoto June 22, 1965 [ full citation needed ]
  11. ""Dennis and the Astronaut", January 13, 1963". Internet Movie Data Base . Retrieved February 9, 2013.


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