On February 20, 1962, astronaut John Glenn of Cambridge, Ohio became the first American, and only the second human ever, to successfully orbit the Earth. Glenn’s historic mission launched close to a year after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin accomplished the same feat in April 1961. The Ohioan’s flight around the Earth was not only important for the data and information that it gathered on human space travel, but it also helped give the young NASA space program, and the United States, the equal footing they needed to rival the Soviet Union’s advanced space program.
The February flight of Friendship 7, the designation of Glenn’s single-manned Mercury-Atlas 6 spacecraft used during the mission, had three objectives. The first objective was to successfully launch an astronaut into space. NASA had already accomplished this task before in May of 1961 when it sent astronaut Alan Shepard into space, but Shepard’s mission was only suborbital. Secondly, Friendship 7 was to observe the performance of an astronaut in orbit. Finally, the mission hoped to successfully help Glenn land safely back on Earth.
Glenn’s mission in 1962 completed all of its objectives. His flight in Earth’s orbit lasted just shy of five hours, while circling the globe three times and reaching speeds of 17,000 miles per hour in the process. Friendship 7 was successfully recovered after the craft had re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and landed in the Atlantic Ocean. After the completion of his mission, John Glenn became a national hero to the millions of Americans who watched and listened to the historic flight unfold.
On December 8, 2016 John Glenn passed away in Columbus, Ohio at the age of 95.