Remembering John Glenn’s Historic Space Flight, 50 Years Ago Today

On this day a half century ago, Mercury Astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. On the morning of February 20, 1962, an anxious nation watched as Glenn climbed into his cramped Friendship 7 space capsule and was propelled by an Atlas 6 rocket high above the atmosphere. He circled the Earth three times before re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. As the veteran space program reporter John Noble Wilford wrote last week in The New York Times, "Perhaps no other spaceflight--all 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds of it--has been followed by so many with such paralyzing apprehension."

You can get a sense of the drama and excitement of that day by watching the newsreel above, and by reading Wilford's interesting piece in the Times. Also, NASA has put together an interactive online feature on the mission. At a time when America's manned space program depends on Russian spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, it's all the more poignant to look back on the day 50 years ago when Glenn became, as writer Tom Wolfe put it, "the last true national hero America has ever had."

Related Content:

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  • Greg Pancratz says:

    Anyone know the details about the heat shield and not jettisoning the rocket pack upon Glenn’s re-entry? I think mission control thought he might be consumed upon re-entry. My parents gave me a 5-LP Time/Life recording about “Man to the Moon”… That’s long gone, but I recall something about the heat shield…. ???

  • Mike Springer says:

    Greg,
    Yes, you can learn about that and other details of the flight in Wilford’s New York Times piece. Just follow the link at the bottom of the article.
    Best,
    Mike

  • Wow – I can’t believe it’s been 50 years! I am disappointed that more emphasis is not put on this great accomplishment – especially in schools! Great to see you feature this!

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