Explorers Club Honors Mercury Astronauts and 'Titanic' Director

A Night at the Waldorf for Exploring Legends Glenn, Carpenter, and Cameron

The 109th Explorers Club Annual Dinner (ECAD) on Mar. 16 was a heady evening for any fan of exploration. The Waldorf dinner, the Exotics—hors d'oeuvres of sustainable, non-endangered, but otherwise gag-inducing foods—combined with a series of "Exploring Legends" interviews during that weekend, made this one of the best ECAD weekends in recent memory. Certainly, for those of us who grew up during the Mercury space program, it was a thrill to hear from the two remaining members of the original seven Mercury astronauts, called "the best of the best" by dinner presenter Col. Joe Kittinger.  

In a taped broadcast from the International Space Station, Canadian astronaut Chris Hatfield, said of Sen. John Glenn and Scott Carpenter, "we absolutely stand on your shoulders."

The weekend received unprecedented media coverage, too numerous to list here when a simple Google search will yield over a dozen stories ranging from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, toStarTalk Radio.  

Some notable moments follow below:

Lowest Bidders - When asked by interviewer James Clash what it felt like when he lifted off for America's orbital flight, Sen. John Glenn joked, "How would you feel if you're about to blast off sitting atop two million parts all built by the lowest bidder?"

What did he think about the 1983 Tom Wolfe film, The Right Stuff? Glenn smiles that he didn't think Ed Harris, the actor who portrayed him, was handsome enough.  

Glenn believes America needs to maximize its investment in the International Space Station. "We're not just blowing money into space to keep it up there," he said. "The space station's research has a lot of benefit here on earth."

His most notable comments dealt with exploration: "To explore is curiosity in action. Any advancement ever made in human history happened because someone was curious.

"Keep curiosity at a high level by reaching out to kids."

Glenn added, "Most exploration is adventure, but not every adventure is exploration."

Glenn told of receiving a letter from a nine-year-old schoolboy in Illinois who was assigned to write a biography of his choice. The child wrote the 91-year-old Senator, "I'm glad you're still alive because a lot of my classmates biographical choices are already dead. I hope you write back."

Glenn joked, "That kid got the fastest reply ever."

An Ordinary Man - Before Glenn spoke, Scott Carpenter, 87, slowly walked to the podium, assisted by a cane. "We were serving in our belief that pre-eminence in space was a condition of America's freedom," he said. Later he said graciously of his second to orbit status in 1962, "The real reason for my flight was to prove to everyone that what John Glenn proved in his flight was possible for an ordinary man to do."

Carpenter, known for saying "God speed John Glenn" - a combination prayer and bon voyage - said his most memorable flight experience was, "the view of our home planet, a view very few of us had experienced at that time."

The Academy Awards of Exploration - In returning a Club flag, James Cameron, 58, who set a solo dive record in 2012, called ECAD, "the Academy Awards of Exploration."  

"I think about what Glenn and Carpenter did and it brings a lump to my throat," he told an audience of 1,200 members and guests. "These were the guys who really were my idols."

Of the submersible he rode to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, Cameron said, "The deeper you go, the tighter the hatch seals. You're not going to leak. It may implode," he joked, "but it won't leak."

"I think of that as 'cut to black,'" said the famed director.  

When asked about so-called "lunartics" who believe the 1969 moon landing was a hoax," Cameron said, "That belief is insulting to this country, insulting to the thousands of people who worked on the lunar program. I know about the state-of-the-art of visual effects at the time. We couldn't have faked the lunar landing then. But we could now," he said to laughter.

He continued, "Explorers are not content to be observers. We come here to play. We seek that place that nobody has ever experienced to get away from the comfort of our own human presence and stare at the universe in the face.

"Cousteau said it best, 'If we knew what was there we wouldn't have to go.'"  

Cameron said he'd like to return to deepsea exploration, "we're only just getting the technology to study what's down there. But first I have to direct two sequels to Avatar, otherwise I'll be shot by 20th Century Fox."