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Published On: Fri, Feb 20th, 2015

Day in History: John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth

On this day in 1962, John Hershel Glenn Jr. is successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, into space aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft on the first orbital flight by an American astronaut.

Glenn was among the seven men chosen by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1959 to become America’s first astronauts. He was a decorated pilot, he flew nearly 150 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War.

Glenn was preceded in space by two Americans, Alan B. Shepard Jr. and Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and two Soviets, Yuri A. Gagarin and Gherman S. Titov.

John Glenn  NASA photo 1962

John Glenn NASA photo 1962

In April 1961, Gagarin was the first man in space, and his spacecraft Vostok 1 made a full orbit before returning to Earth.

Less than one month later, Shepard was launched into space aboard Freedom 7 on a suborbital flight.

In July, Grissom made another brief suborbital flight aboard Liberty Bell 7.

In August, with the Americans still having failed to make an orbital flight, the Russians moved further ahead in the space race when Titov spent more than 25 hours in space aboard Vostok 2, making 17 orbits.

Glenn lifted off from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral at 9:47 a.m. on February 20, 1962 as some 100,000 spectators watched on the ground nearby and millions more saw it on television.

After separating from its launching rocket, the bell-shaped Friendship 7 capsule entered into an orbit around Earth at a speed of about 17,500 miles per hour.

Glenn radioed back, “Capsule is turning around. Oh, that view is tremendous.”

During Friendship 7‘s first orbit, Glenn observed crystallized water vapor released by the capsule’s air-conditioning system as small, glowing fireflies drifting by the capsule’s tiny window.

Before the end of the first orbit, Friendship 7‘s automatic control system began to malfunction, sending the capsule into erratic movements. At the end of the orbit, Glenn switched to manual control and regained command of the craft.

After some debate and fear surrounding the capsule’s heat shield, Glenn began his fiery descent back to Earth, losing radio contact with mission control.

After four minutes of radio silence, Glenn’s voice crackled through loudspeakers at mission control, and Friendship 7 splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean.

He was picked up by the USS destroyer Noa, and his first words upon stepping out of the capsule and onto the deck of the Noa were, “It was hot in there.” He had spent nearly five hours in space.

Glenn was hailed as a national hero, and on February 23 President John F. Kennedy visited him at Cape Canaveral.

He later addressed Congress and was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

A camera aboard the "Friendship 7" Mercury spacecraft photographs Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. during the Mercury-Atlas 6 spaceflight   photo NASA, 1962

A camera aboard the “Friendship 7” Mercury spacecraft photographs Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. during the Mercury-Atlas 6 spaceflight photo NASA, 1962

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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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