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
Died December 31, 1979(1979-12-31) (aged 57)
Phoenix, Arizona
Buried at Phoenix, Arizona
Allegiance United States
Service/branch Seal of the US Air Force.svg US 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 US 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.

Biography[edit]

Powers was born 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. After graduation, he enlisted in the 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]

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.[3]

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.

Project Mercury[edit]

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.[4] Very early on April 12, 1961, John G. Warner, a UPI rewrite-man in Washington, DC, 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.[5]

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 proceed as planned. He claimed astronaut Alan Shepard first used the expression during his Freedom 7 flight, but communication transcripts later showed he had not. 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".[6]

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.[7]

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.[8] Powers objected to the HQ decision to release the mission's 22-orbit flight plan in advance.[9] He was succeeded by Paul Haney on September 1, and Powers soon resigned.

Later years[edit]

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).[10] He lectured extensively about the space program; and in 1967, he authored a newspaper column syndicated by Field Enterprises called "Space Talk", answering readers' questions.

Powers was married three times and was the father of three children.[11] He married Sara Kay McSherry, women's editor of the Indianapolis News, on August 7, 1965.[12]

Powers moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1978, and died there at his home on December 31, 1979 at age 57 from a gastro-intestinal hemorrhage related to chronic alcoholism.[13]

Film and TV[edit]

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.[14]

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, "Beam me up, Shorty Powers".

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Shorty Powers Preaches Peace" (May 12, 1970), The Toledo Blade, p. 52
  2. ^ "The Press: Calm Voice from Space" (March 2, 1962), Time
  3. ^ "The Press: Calm Voice from Space" (March 2, 1962), Time
  4. ^ DeGroot, Gerard J. Dark Side of the Moon: the Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest, New York University Press (2006), p. 96
  5. ^ "The Press: Calm Voice from Space" (March 2, 1962), TIME
  6. ^ Wolfe, Tom The Right Stuff Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1979), p. 215
  7. ^ Benedict, Howard "'Voice of the Astronauts' Shorty Powers Dead" (January 3, 1980), The Associated Press in the Observer-Reporter (Washington, Pa.), p. D-3
  8. ^ "Shorty Powers, 'voice of the astronauts,' is found dead at 57" (January 3, 1980), St. Petersburg Times, p. 1-A
  9. ^ "'Shorty' Powers Loses Job With Astronauts" (July 27, 1963), Meriden (Conn.) Record, p. 1
  10. ^ "Powers Rejects Space Critics Opposed to Manned Flights" (October 8, 1970), Schenectady Gazette, p. 49
  11. ^ Benedict, Howard "'Voice of the Astronauts' Shorty Powers Dead" (January 3, 1980), The Associated Press in the Observer-Reporter (Washington, Pa.), p. D-3
  12. ^ AP wirephoto June 22, 1965
  13. ^ "Shorty Powers, 'voice of the astronauts,' is found dead at 57" (January 3, 1980), St. Petersburg Times, p. 1-A
  14. ^ ""Dennis and the Astronaut", January 13, 1963". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 9, 2013. 

References[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

  • Benedict, Howard "'Voice of the Astronauts' Shorty Powers Dead" (January 3, 1980), The Associated Press
  • "Shorty Powers, 'voice of the astronauts,' is found dead at 57" (January 3, 1980), St. Petersburg Times, p. 1-A

External links[edit]