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February 20, 1962. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on this date. In 4 hours and 55 minutes, he circled the globe three times in his space capsule Friendship 7. The feat was momentous and made Glenn a hero and a household name.
In 1962, Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter became the second American to orbit Earth, circling it three times. John Glenn was the first, earlier in the year.
The rocket could explode on the pad, some catastrophic failure could stop Glenn from reaching orbit, the reentry system could fail leaving Glenn orbiting the Earth in a capsule-shaped coffin, the spacecraft could break up during reentry, he could drown after splashdown just about every phase of the flight was …
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. In April 1961, Gagarin was the first man in space, and his spacecraft Vostok 1 made a full orbit before returning to Earth.
From Cape Canaveral, Florida, John Herschel Glenn Jr. is successfully launched into space aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft on the first orbital flight by an American astronaut.
On February 20, 1962, NASA launched one of the most important flights in American history. The mission? Send a man to orbit Earth, observe his reactions and return him home safely.
Born on July 18, 1921, Glenn was the oldest of the group, arguably the most celebrated, and an obvious candidate for Mercury from the beginning. A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Glenn had flown 149 combat missions and been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross five times.