This day in history: Friendship 7 launched

This day in history: Friendship 7 launched

On Feb. 20, 1962, Friendship 7 launched. The mission made John Glenn the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. It also reestablished the United States as a contender in the heated space race.

Before Glenn made history, the Soviet Union led the space race. They had already launched Sputnik (1957), the world’s first spacecraft. They also made Yuri Gagarin the first human into space in 1961. In response, NASA sent up Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom in the first two Mercury missions. However, these were sub-orbital flights.

Friendship 7’s legacy

Mercury-Atlas 6, with pilot John Glenn aboard Friendship 7, was the third planned crewed mission. The objective? Send the first American astronaut into orbit, observe their reaction, and return them safely home.

In Glenn’s case, they quite literally strapped him to a missile. An Atlas launch vehicle propelled his capsule into orbit. The Atlas was a modified intercontinental ballistic missile. After he launched, Glenn orbited the Earth three times before safely splashing down. His flight took 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds. Despite some minor systems issues, NASA hailed the mission as a major engineering accomplishment.

The historic event marked a shift in the space race by showing that the United States could compete with the Soviet Union.

John Glenn returned, “a national hero and a symbol of American ambition,” and the flight is still regarded as, “one of the most important flights in American history.”

Project Mercury set the stage for the longer duration space flights of the Gemini and Apollo programs. It took the careful design of Friendship 7, the dedication of NASA’s best and brightest minds, and the bravery of Glenn to realize a nation’s dream.

To celebrate this day, take a look back at the Friendship 7 flight, from start to finish, with a NASA highlight video created to commemorate Glenn and his historic mission:

The Friendship 7 capsule is now displayed at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. Learn more about the groundbreaking Friendship 7 mission here and see an artifact from the mission in Starship Gallery when you visit the center.

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Katherine Johnson, Hidden Figures, and John Glenn’s Flight, National Air and Space Museum

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Katherine Johnson, Hidden Figures, and John Glenn’s Flight

February 20 is the anniversary of John Glenn’s historic flight in the Mercury spacecraft he named Friendship 7. He became the third American and fifth person in space, but what made his mission especially important was that he was the first American to orbit the Earth. Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom’s earlier Mercury flights, both achievements in their own right, had only been 15-minute suborbital hops. Glenn’s three circuits around the world at last equaled the Soviet Union’s achievement of orbiting Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961. Glenn, who passed away only two months ago, became a national hero.

Now the flight of Friendship 7 has gained new resonance because it is the dramatic climax of a very popular movie, Hidden Figures, based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book details the history of a little known group of women of color at NASA and its precursor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). White female “computers” (then a job title) already worked for NACA at its founding center, the Langley Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia, as was true in other science and engineering organizations in the US and beyond. Female mathematicians using large mechanical desk calculators did elaborate but often tedious calculating work so that male aerodynamicists could concentrate on the science. In World War II, however, a labor shortage forced Langley to look beyond white women for these positions. The lab created a segregated unit, West Computing, for black women. They usually had math degrees and previously had no options in the South other than in poorly paid teaching jobs in segregated schools.

One of these women was Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson from White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, who joined the unit in 1953. A brilliant mathematician, she was one of the first African American graduate students at West Virginia University. She probably would have gone on to a doctorate had the lack of future job prospects and family concerns not intervened. Five years after she came to Langley, the center became part of NASA and the home of America’s first human spaceflight project, Project Mercury. Katherine Goble, as she was then known, quickly graduated into doing the trajectory computations for the capsule’s orbit and for its reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. One key question was calculating the exact position over the Earth to fire the retrorockets in order to land in the center of the ocean recovery zone. As a result of this work, Johnson (after remarriage) became the first African American female computer to have her name on a technical paper issued by Langley.

Right at this time, the center installed the first large IBM mainframe computer, foreshadowing an age when the job title would go away and the women would adapt to becoming computer scientists. In fall 1961, as the Mercury project prepared for Glenn’s launch on the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile, Glenn asked one of the supervisors to have “the girl,” meaning Johnson, to check the reentry calculations of the new computer on the old desktop calculators—he just was not comfortable with having his fate dependent on a machine. Johnson did that extensive work, which took a couple of weeks, and became known for it in the African American press after the flight.

How do those facts compare with the movie? Hidden Figures, the motion picture, takes many liberties with history. More than three years of the Mercury program are compressed into a few months in 1961. Scenes are invented to heighten the drama, like attributing to Johnson the insight that the smaller Redstone rocket used for suborbital flights could not put the capsule in orbit—as if that was not already obvious to the NASA engineers from the outset. And in the movie, Glenn phones Langley from the launch pad to have the calculations done on an emergency basis, Mercury Control at the Cape is moved to Langley so that the actress who plays Johnson, Taraji P. Henson, can step into it, and Glenn’s flight is shortened from seven orbits to three because of a warning light that his heatshield may be loose. In fact, his mission was always three orbits, and while the warning light had flight controllers quite worried, it was not aired publicly in a way that anyone watching TV understood what was going on. I could go on about the factual inaccuracies, which are many, but how bothersome that is depends on how much one thinks dramatic license is justified to make a good movie. And it is a good movie, well-acted and inspirational. I enjoyed it even as I was exasperated by its many deviations from history, some of which are simply unnecessary.

As for Katherine Johnson, she fortunately is still with us today at age 98. She received late-life recognition even before Hidden Figures. In 2015, President Obama gave her the highest US civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her story, like those of the other women commemorated in the book and the movie, are destined to change our national narrative about the space program and the people who contributed to it. In that sense, both versions of Hidden Figures are undoubtedly important.

Michael J. Neufeld is a senior curator in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum and has Friendship 7 in his collections. He vividly recalls watching the Glenn launch and landing on TV as a ten-year-old in Canada.

John Glenn was the 1st American to orbit Earth, Space, EarthSky

John glenn’s first space flight

John Glenn and Friendship 7. Image via NASA.

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. But it wasn’t without its scary moments.

First, some history. Glenn was one of the first American astronauts, the ones NASA called the Mercury 7. These were the same seven astronauts immortalized in Thomas Wolfe’s masterly 1979 book “The Right Stuff.” In those days, astronauts were also encouraged to give personal nicknames to their space capsules. Glenn and his family decided on the word Friendship, adding the number 7 to honor his fellow Mercury astronauts. But Glenn’s mission was officially named Mercury-Atlas 6, Mercury for the Roman god of speed and Atlas 6 to indicate that this was the sixth mission to use the newer, faster Atlas rocket as a launch vehicle.

And indeed … speed was key to achieving an orbit around Earth.

NASA introduced its first astronauts – the Mercury 7 – On April 9, 1959. This image was taken by LIFE magazine photographer Ralph Morse on March 17, 1960, Front row, left to right: Walter M. Schirra Jr., Donald K. “Deke” Slayton, John H. Glenn Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter; back row, Alan B. Shepard Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and L. Gordon Cooper Jr. Image via NASA/ Flickr.

Glenn’s launch to space was postponed four times due to mechanical issues with the Atlas rocket, and with weather uncertainties. Finally, with the weather cooperating and the mechanical issues solved, Glenn was strapped into Friendship 7 early on the morning of February 20, 1962. Schoolchildren (including me) watched on television that day as the countdown ended and Glenn blasted into space. As explained by

As mission control performed its final system checks, test conductor Tom O’Malley initiated the launch sequence, adding a personal prayer, ‘May the good Lord ride all the way,’ to which Carpenter, the backup astronaut for the mission, added, ‘Godspeed, John Glenn.’ Carpenter later explained that he had come up with the phrase on the spot, but its did hold significance for most test pilots and astronauts: ‘In those days, speed was magic … and nobody had gone that fast. If you can get that speed, you’re home-free.’

In other words, to attain even a low-Earth orbit, the challenge is to reach a fast-enough speed. The mean orbital velocity needed to maintain a stable low-Earth orbit is about 17,000 miles per hour (28,000 km/h, or 7.8 km/s). On his trip around Earth, Glenn reached that speed, the first time for any American.

That’s right … any American. Glenn wasn’t the first earthling to complete an orbit around Earth. In fact, he was the third, following two Russian cosmonauts: Yuri Gagarin ( April 1961) and Gherman Titov (August 1961).

It was the ’60s, and it was the space race.

John Glenn climbs into the Friendship 7 spacecraft just before making his first trip into space on February 20, 1962. Photo via NASA.

And – as mentioned above – Glenn’s flight wasn’t without its scary moments. As explained:

During his second orbit, mission control noticed a sensor was issuing a warning that Friendship 7’s heat shield and landing bag were not secure, putting the mission, and Glenn in danger. Officials did not immediately inform Glenn of the potential problem, instead asking him to run a series of small tests on the system to see if that resolved the issue, which eventually clued Glenn in to their concerns. After a series of discussions, it was decided that rather than following standard procedures to discard the retrorocket (an engine designed to slow down the capsule upon reentry), Glenn would keep the rocket in place to help secure the heat shield.

All was well. Glenn successfully reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. His successful recovery took place 800 miles (1,300 km) southeast of Bermuda. Later, when officials inspected the recovered capsule, they found out the heat shield hadn’t been in danger, after all. The problem had been a faulty sensor.

Meawhile, John Glenn instantly became a national hero to Americans.

His flight was commemorated in the popular 2016 film “Hidden Figures.”

Glenn returned to space at age 77 aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1998, making him the oldest person to fly in space. His mission’s primary scientific aim at that time was to study the effects of spaceflight on seniors.

Here’s what John Glenn saw on February 20, 1962. Just 5 minutes and 44 seconds after launch, Glenn offered his first words about the view from his porthole: “This is Friendship 7. Can see clear back; a big cloud pattern way back across towards the Cape. Beautiful sight.” Three hours later, at the beginning of his third orbit, Glenn photographed this panoramic view of Florida from the Georgia border (right, under clouds) to just north of Cape Canaveral. His American homeland was 162 miles (260 kilometers) below. “I have the Cape in sight down there,” he noted to mission controllers. “It looks real fine from up here. I can see the whole state of Florida just laid out like on a map. Beautiful.” Image via NASA.

Bottom line: John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth on February 20, 1962. His space capsule was called Friendship 7.

John Glenn s Return to Space on Discovery

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John Glenn’s Return to Space on Discovery

On October 29, 1998, John Glenn launched on his second spaceflight. That, by itself, was not unusual. By then US astronauts had flown multiple times in space. John Young and Franklin Chang-Diaz already held a record at six space flights each.

But Glenn’s return to space was distinctive because it came 36 years after his historic 1962 flight on the Mercury Friendship 7 spacecraft, when he became the first American in orbit. When John Glenn boarded the shuttle orbiter Discovery, now in the Museum’s collection and displayed at our Udvar-Hazy Center, he was 77 years old—the oldest person yet to venture into space.

What is the story behind this long hiatus? Rumor has it that neither NASA nor President Kennedy wanted to put Glenn at risk again after his first flight. In the Space Race, he had become more valuable to the nation as a hero and goodwill ambassador than as a career astronaut. Glenn, a US Marine aviator, aeronautical engineer, and test pilot, itched to fly again, but he had no more spaceflight assignments after his five-hour, three-orbit Mercury mission put him in the headlines and history books.

NASA introduced the Project Mercury astronauts to the world on April 9, 1959, only six months after the agency was established. Known as the Mercury Seven or Original Seven, they are (front row, left to right) Walter M. “Wally” Schirra Jr., Donald K. “Deke” Slayton, John H. Glenn Jr., M. Scott Carpenter, (back row) Alan B. Shepard Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom and L. Gordon Cooper, Jr.

Restless and ambitious, Glenn left NASA in 1964, spent some time as a business executive, and then campaigned for a US Senate seat from his home state, Ohio. First elected in 1974, he served four terms until his retirement in January 1999. As a Senator, Glenn advocated for space exploration, science, and education, and he chaired the Government Affairs Committee for most of his tenure. He also maintained close ties with NASA and made known his desire to fly in space again.

Glenn’s service on the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging finally opened the door for a flight on a Space Shuttle mission. He proposed to NASA the benefit of flying an elderly person, because some of the bodily effects of spaceflight are similar to the bodily effects of aging, such as bone density loss, compromised immune system, and sleep disruption. Glenn volunteered to be a test subject for any investigations that could benefit from in-flight data from someone his age. Of course, data from a single source for a limited duration does not constitute a thorough investigation, but Glenn argued that a sample of one was better than no sample at all.

With one flight in 1962 and another in 1998, John Glenn uniquely bridged two eras in space history and left his mark in each.

Involving him in such experiments gave NASA a plausible reason to assign John Glenn as a payload specialist on the STS-95 SPACEHAB mission, which was loaded with life science and microgravity experiments. Glenn trained with the prime crew and received good reviews for his work ethic and affability; he took his role in the mission seriously and was unpretentious about his celebrity. In orbit, he gamely took his turn with meal preparation and housekeeping chores but kept his attention focused on the science. This time he spent almost nine days and 134 orbits in space.

John Glenn on STS-95 wearing experiment sensors and other equipment. Credit: NASA Johnson Space Center

Media coverage of Glenn’s return to space was mixed. There was understandable skepticism about the value of the biomedical research on a single person and suggestions that the experiments were simply a cover for giving the NASA champion a late-career victory lap. On the other hand, there was also popular sentiment that sending America’s first man in orbit on a longer mission was a fitting reward for his earlier heroism and life in public service, especially because his promising astronaut career had been curtailed.

John Glenn’s return to space was one of the “good news” stories of 1998. It was a boon for NASA public relations and a capstone event in his career. Tourists thronged to witness the launch, including President and First Lady Clinton who attended to cheer him on. Once again, upon landing he was greeted as a national hero, this time as much for his senior citizen’s stamina as he had been hailed years ago for his youthful courage. Glenn bore the title of “oldest person in space” with good-natured aplomb.

The astronauts of STS-95: Seated are astronauts Curtis L. Brown Jr. (right), commander; and Steven W. Lindsey, pilot. Standing, from the left, are Scott E. Parazynski and Stephen K. Robinson, both mission specialists; Chiaki Mukai, payload specialist representing Japan’s National Space Development Agency (NASDA); Pedro Duque, mission specialist representing the European Space Agency (ESA); and United States Senator John H. Glenn Jr., payload specialist.

John Glenn demonstrated his commitment to space exploration one more time by speaking at the Welcome, Discovery ceremony when NASA delivered Discovery to the Museum in 2012. He lauded the achievements of the Space Shuttle era, disagreed with the early retirement of the shuttle fleet, and spoke about a future in space that might include humans on Mars.

Glenn had the distinction of being the only original astronaut (from the Mercury 7 group selected in 1959) to fly on the Space Shuttle. That mission was Discovery’s 25 th flight, itself a milestone of longevity. With one flight in 1962 and another in 1998, John Glenn uniquely bridged two eras in space history and left his mark in each. He lived almost long enough to celebrate this 20 th anniversary of his return to space, dying at age 95 in December 2016. The Museum is honored to display both of “his” spacecraft and foster his legacy.

John Glenn becomes first American to orbit Earth

John Glenn becomes first American to orbit Earth

From Cape Canaveral, Florida, John Hershel Glenn Jr. is successfully launched into space aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft on the first orbital flight by an American astronaut.

Glenn, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, was among the seven men chosen by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1959 to become America’s first astronauts. A decorated pilot, he flew nearly 150 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War. In 1957, he made the first nonstop supersonic flight across the United States, flying from Los Angeles to New York in three hours and 23 minutes.

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. 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 sprinted further ahead in the space race when Titov spent more than 25 hours in space aboard Vostok 2, making 17 orbits. As a technological power, the United States was looking very much second-rate compared with its Cold War adversary. If the Americans wanted to dispel this notion, they needed a multi-orbital flight before another Soviet space advance arrived.

It was with this responsibility in mind that John Glenn lifted off from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral at 9:47 a.m. on February 20, 1962. 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. Smoothing into orbit, Glenn radioed back, “Capsule is turning around. Oh, that view is tremendous.”

During Friendship 7‘s first orbit, Glenn noticed what he described as small, glowing fireflies drifting by the capsule’s tiny window. It was some time later that NASA mission control determined that the sparks were crystallized water vapor released by the capsule’s air-conditioning system. Before the end of the first orbit, a more serious problem occurred when 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.

Toward the end of Glenn’s third and last orbit, mission control received a mechanical signal from the spacecraft indicating that the heat shield on the base of the capsule was possibly loose. Traveling at its immense speed, the capsule would be incinerated if the shield failed to absorb and dissipate the extremely high reentry temperatures. It was decided that the craft’s retrorockets, usually jettisoned before reentry, would be left on in order to better secure the heat shield. Less than a minute later, Friendship 7 slammed into Earth’s atmosphere.

During Glenn’s fiery descent back to Earth, the straps holding the retrorockets gave way and flapped violently by his window as a shroud of ions caused by excessive friction enveloped the spacecraft, causing Glenn to lose radio contact with mission control. As mission control anxiously waited for the resumption of radio transmissions that would indicate Glenn’s survival, he watched flaming chunks of retrorocket fly by his window. 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.

Two Decades Ago, John Glenn’s Encore Space Flight Lifted U

Two Decades Ago, John Glenn’s Encore Space Flight Lifted U.S. Spirits

Two cameras tell the tale of the first American to orbit Earth and his return to space 36 years later

Before astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, scientists thought a weightless man might not be able to swallow. They worried that his eyeballs might change shape and damage eyesight. Some feared that weightlessness might be so intoxicating that an astronaut might refuse to return to Earth. No one, but a few secretive Soviet scientists who had already sent two men into orbit, knew what to expect. After Glenn’s flight of less than five hours, all of these questions and many more had been answered by a U.S. Marine who was, at age 40, the oldest Mercury astronaut.

When Glenn first rocketed into orbit, America held its breath. Millions of Americans, from feeble World War I veterans to frisky first-graders, followed his original flight. The TV networks broadcast continuous coverage, including the sound of his surprisingly steady heartbeat. He was attempting something terrifying and wonderful, and awe was the order of the day.

On that flight, he took with him an Ansco Autoset camera that he bought in a Cocoa Beach drug store. NASA engineers hacked the camera so that he could use it wearing his astronaut gloves and attached a grip with buttons to advance the film and to control the shutter. With it, Glenn was the first to take color stills of Earth during his trip into space. That battered 35 mm camera is now held in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., along with the Mercury Friendship 7 and other artifacts from Glenn’s three-orbit mission.

After his return, fans filled the streets to watch parades in Washington D.C. and New York City. A joint session of Congress gave him a standing ovation. Noting the country’s affection for the famed astronaut, President John F. Kennedy quietly told NASA officials that Glenn’s life was too valuable to risk on another flight. With no opportunity to fly, Glenn left NASA in 1964, heading into business and politics.

Twenty years ago this month and 36 years after that first flight, U.S. senator John Glenn once again donned a spacesuit and soared into orbit. As before, on October 29, 1998, Americans were laser-focused on that venture when the 77-year-old grandfather flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery. And as before, he took a camera with him.

During his months of training, Glenn had enjoyed photography classes, especially after a geologist and geographer told the astronauts what kinds of images they would like to see. He treasured the opportunity to look at the Earth and loved using a Nikon digital camera. That sleek state-of-the-art (at the time) model, which other crew members used, was easily operated with interchangeable lenses. It also resides in the museum’s collections, along with the Space Shuttle Discovery and a host of other artifacts from that mission, known as STS-95.

For that mission, new generations cheered, as senior citizen Glenn again became America’s most-watched explorer. As Joe Dirik of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote, “It is certainly no knock on Ohio’s senior senator to note that he is not exactly a natural-born politician. He was always better at his first job. Being an American hero.”

Three years earlier, Glenn began his relentless battle to orbit the Earth again. As a member of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, he urged NASA head Dan Goldin to make him a guinea pig in a study of the similarities between the symptoms of aging and the effects of weightlessness. Goldin was skeptical, but eventually he told Glenn in January 1998, “You’ve passed all the physicals, the science is good, and we’ve called a news conference tomorrow to announce that John Glenn’s going back into space.”

John Glenn by Henry C. Casselli, Jr., 1998 (NPG ©Henry C. Casselli, Jr)

Glenn wanted to show Americans that age need not be a restriction. “On behalf of everyone my age and older, and those who are about to be our age before too many years have gone, I can guarantee you I’ll give it my very best shot,” he said. He hoped such experiments could lessen “the frailties of old age that plague so many people.”

Glenn hadn’t told his family about his campaign until Christmas 1997. His wife and two middle-aged children were not thrilled. Images of the explosion of space shuttle Challenger after liftoff in 1986 haunted his son Dave, now a father himself.

But despite his family’s objections, Glenn planned to join six crewmates for the nine-day mission. In preparation, he underwent eight months of both physical and technological training. In one exercise, the septuagenarian did a nine- to 10-foot free fall into a pool while weighted down by a parachute and survival equipment.

On launch day, the crowd at Cape Canaveral included at least 2,500 journalists and more than 250,000 spectators—some of whom had been there on February 20, 1962, when he first journeyed into the unknown.

The Smithsonian’s Michael Neufield, senior curator of space history, recalls the excitement at the Air and Space museum that day: “They had TVs up, and they were just packed with people watching the launch. . . . Most of them were too young to ever remember the original [flight].” Neufeld thinks part of the interest sprang from Glenn’s age and the feeling “that you and I could deal with going into space if a 77-year-old guy could do it.” The museum took part in the Glenn hoopla by collecting more than 18,000 electronic postcards addressed to the senator/astronaut from people all over the world. “Thank you so much for the reminder that the only limits in this life are the ones you impose upon yourself—that with hard work and a little luck anything is possible,” said one. Another noted that “your mission is a great inspiration to the kids I mentor at Gen Milam School in Grand Prairie, TX.”

Glenn’s Discovery crewmates were Commander Curtis L. Brown; pilot Steven W. Lindsey; mission specialists Scott E. Parazynski, Stephen K. Robinson, plus astronaut Pedro Duque from Spain and payload specialist Chiaki Mukai from Japan. But for most Americans, the other astronauts’ names were mere footnotes to Glenn’s. After 90 successful shuttle flights, the public had become blasé about the hundreds of men and women who climbed aboard the spacecraft.

Glenn participated in several shuttle-to-Earth communication events with other crew members. He answered students’ questions, spoke to Japan’s prime minister, did a live interview with the Tonight Show’s Jay Leno, and took part in NASA’s 40th anniversary luncheon in Houston by speaking to Goldin and newscaster Walter Cronkite, who had anchored coverage of Glenn’s first flight and joyously had come out of retirement to cover this flight for CNN.

In Glenn’s Mercury capsule, there were no bathroom facilities, so he wore a condom connected to rubber tubing and a collection bag attached to the back of one leg in case he needed to urinate. Discovery’s facilities offered privacy and relative ease in eliminating bodily waste. During liftoff and landing, Glenn and his crewmates wore diapers to accommodate emergencies.

John Glenn by Boris Artzybasheff, 1962 (NPG ©Boris Artzybasheff)

While in orbit, Glenn underwent many tests. Ten blood samples and 16 urine samples were taken to gauge the effects of weightlessness. Each day, he completed a back pain questionnaire, and he and crewmate Mukai tracked their food consumption. Even when he slept, Glenn was tested. At one designated bedtime, he swallowed a thermistor capsule that recorded his body’s core temperature. During some sleep periods, he and Mukai wore an electrode net cap connected to a device tracking respiration, body and eye movements, muscle tension and brain waves. To judge how astronaut sleep disturbances affected cognitive skills, both underwent computerized exams.

John Charles, who was the flight’s project scientist and is now scientist in residency at Space Center Houston, says no huge discovery emerged from Glenn’s tests because it was impossible to make generalizations based on samples from a single elderly American. However, Charles says examination of the crew’s readings did generate one unexpected conclusion: Despite a dramatic age difference (the oldest of his crewmates was 9 when Glenn orbited in 1962), his readings were remarkably similar to those of his colleagues.

Discovery’s mission was not limited to medical tests. The crew conducted more than 80 experiments in all. The biggest was launching and retrieving Spartan, a satellite that studied solar winds. When the flight ended November 7 with a safe landing at Kennedy Space Center, Glenn could have been carried from the shuttle to minimize the shock of a return to normal gravity. He insisted on walking, but later admitted that during landing, he suffered repeated vomiting, delaying the crew’s emergence from Discovery.

While some critics saw the senator’s second flight as a NASA publicity stunt, Glenn again felt American adulation through letters, requests for appearances and parades in his honor. Some children felt a special affection for this grandfatherly figure, while many senior citizens found his achievement inspiring. Glenn again found himself at the center of a New York City tickertape parade before a sparce crowd of a mere 500,000—compared with his 1962 parade, which attracted four million. Nevertheless, as the New York Times reported, “There were many cheerful scenes of people enjoying themselves during their brush with history. Fathers hoisted children on their shoulders, children waved American flags and people lined up to buy commemorative T-shirts.”

In orbit, Glenn had repeated the words he had used in 1962 to describe weightlessness, “Zero-g and I feel fine.” He watched the beautiful planet below, an image he had thought he would never see again with his own eyes, and a tear materialized in his eye—and just settled there. “In zero gravity,” he recalled later, “a tear doesn’t roll down your cheek. It just sits there until it evaporates.”

John Glenn: America’s Astronaut

In February 1962, he became the first American to orbit the Earth. Since then John Herschel Glenn Jr. has stood in the popular imagination as a quintessentially American hero. In John Glenn: America’s Astronaut, a special edition e-book featuring 45 stunning photographs as well as a video, Andrew Chaikin explores Glenn’s path to greatness.

What if John Glenn had Died in Space, Discover Magazine

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What if John Glenn had Died in Space?


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A healthy John Glenn after landing. NASA. When NASA launched John Glenn on its first ever orbital mission in 1962, there was a pretty realistic chance that he was going to die. Not because the agency was taking an unnecessary risk. It wasn’t; every element of the flight was tested and proven to a point where everyone, Glenn included, was confident. But still, it was the early 1960s and rockets had a nasty habit of blowing up. With that in mind, a memo reached Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson on January 16, 1962. It was from O. B. Lloyd, director of NASA’s Office of Public Information, and it outlined exactly what would happen if Glenn was killed on his Friendship 7 mission. In considering what might happen to Glenn that would force a statement from NASA and the White House, death was top of the list. 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 deemed potentially catastrophic. NASA didn’t expect anything to go wrong, but all the same, Lloyd (rightly) predicted that the loss of an astronaut on the first orbital mission “likely provoke enormous public reaction critical of the entire United States manned space effort,” especially since it would be coming on the heels of two successful Soviet missions. So he prepared the people who would be called on to console the nation. The White House would make the first move, contacting Mrs. Annie Glenn by phone or messenger with personal condolences. At the same time, the President’s office would release a statement along the lines of: “To Mrs. Glenn and members of the Glenn family go my deepest sympathy. It was my pleasure to have known John Glenn. This nation and the entire world share his loss with the Glenn family. Space scientists will revere his pioneering spirit forever.”

John Glenn, Annie Glenn, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson arrive at Cape Canaveral after riding in a parade through Cocoa Beach, Florida, celebrating Glenn’s Friendship 7 space flight, February 23, 1962. NASA Then the Vice President would then release a similar statement: “The death of John Glenn is a profound and personal loss to me and to every American. His gallant effort to advance man’s knowledge of the space that surrounds out earth should never be forgotten. I would propose that the government establish a permanent scholarship in his name for promising space science students to advance the cause for which he gave his life. My deep and everlasting sympathy is with his family and I hope someday they will find solace and comfort in the thought that he died for a great cause and in a spirit of high purpose.” Next, it would be NASA’s turn to speak. The office of the Administrator would go next with its statement. “All of NASA’s employees join me in extending sincere sympathy to the Glenn family. With his distinguished pilot background, John Glenn knew — as only pilots can – that no flight system can be 100 percent safe. With heartfelt dedication and renewed vigor, we in NASA will press on with experiments to extend man’s capacity to fly and acquire scientific data for the benefit of all mankind.” Finally, it would be the Mercury project director’s turn to speak, or at least someone from the Manned Spacecraft Centre. “We in the NASA Manned Spacecraft Centre feel the loss of John Glenn very personally. The other astronaut project people and I have known and worked with John day in and day out for three years. I have already expressed our feelings to Mrs. Glenn in a phone call that I had prayed I would never have to make. I realize, after 30 years in the flight development field, that such accidents — while not Inevitable — do happen. Advanced test pilot work is, by its very nature, hazardous. We will isolate the cause of this accident and do our best to see that it doe does not occur in future flights.”

John Glenn on his second mission in 1998. NASA. The inevitable press conference would be held at the Cape, but all data — telemetry and voice transmissions — impounded while NASA conducted its own investigation into the incident. If something went wrong but Glenn survived, it would be up to the NASA personnel only to make a statement, as well as any individuals best equipped to comment on the mission. In the end, happily, no one needed to read their prepared “Dead Glenn” statements. The flight wasn’t perfect. An erroneous warning light suggested his landing bag had deployed in orbit, which meant that the heat shield would no longer be securely fastened to the spacecraft. If this was the case, he risked burning up on reentry, so NASA had him keep his retrorocket pack on hoping that the straps would secure the heat shield. But the reentry was fine and Glenn landed unscathed. There were only congratulatory messages coming from the White House along with ticker tape parades nationwide. Source: “MA-6 Contingencies” O. B. Lloyd to the Administrator, Deputy Administrator, Associate Administrator. January 16, 1962. Vice Presidential Aide’s Files of George Reedy, box 12. LBJ Library, Austin, TX.

A real fireball of a ride’: John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962

‘A real fireball of a ride’: John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962

Astronaut John Glenn is seen in the space training capsule, Feb. 20, 1962, in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (AP Photo) AP

The front page of The Patriot declared on Feb. 21, 1962, “IT WAS GO!”

“Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. with four hours and 56 minutes of space flight credit, returned to earth Tuesday wrapped in a falling star that had been heated to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Just before the capsule hit the water, Glenn’s voice came in loud and clear:

‘Boy, that was a real fireball of a ride.’

He plunked into the ocean at 2:43 p.m. and 21 minutes later, he sat on the deck of the U.S.S. Noa, a destroyer, where he volunteered to help loosen the upper escape hatch of Friendship 7. Minutes later, the attempt unsuccessful, he touched off the explosive train in the side hatch, blew it out and emerged to greet Noa’s officers.

‘My condition is excellent,’ Col. Glenn, 40 years old, the father of two teenage children, announced.

Astronaut John Glenn is seen with his Friendship 7 space capsule atop an Atlas rocket at Cape Canaveral, Fla., Feb. 20, 1962 ready for the flight which made him the first American to orbit the earth. (AP Photo) AP

The statement was an anti-climax. There seemed no doubt of his condition as the astronaut raced through the skies – controlling his craft, eating meals, taking his own blood pressure, communicating his observations, taking at least four rolls of pictures, sending his thanks to well-wishers and even finding time for banter.”

On Feb. 20, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth aboard Mercury’s Friendship 7 spacecraft.

The craft circled Earth three times in 4 hours, 56 minutes before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean, 800 miles southeast of Bermuda.

According to NASA, this was “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. The pilot of this historic flight, John Glenn, became a national hero and a symbol of American ambition.

In 1958, Glenn participated in a series of tests designed to select the first group of astronauts for the newly formed NASA Manned Space Program. Each astronaut candidate, from an original pool of 508, had to meet seven criteria.

In this Feb. 20, 1962, file photo, U.S. astronaut John Glenn climbs inside the capsule of the Mercury spacecraft Friendship 7 before becoming the first American to orbit the Earth, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo, File) AP

They had to be test pilot school graduates in excellent physical shape, less than 40 years old, shorter than 5 feet 11 inches, qualified jet pilots, and they had to have at least 1,500 hours flying time and bachelors’ degrees in engineering. Glenn met all the requirements.

He also had a reputation as one of the best test pilots in the country. In July 1957, he had set a transcontinental speed record by flying from Los Angeles to New York in 3 hours and 23 minutes. It was the first transcontinental flight to average supersonic speed.

In April of 1959, Glenn was selected as a member of the first group of astronauts, the ‘Mercury Seven.’ He was joined by Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton.

The Friendship 7 Mercury capsule with astronaut John Glenn aboard, is shown being launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Feb. 20, 1962. (AP Photo) ASSOCIATED PRESS

Glenn was the third American in space but the first to orbit Earth.

“He instantly became a hero. President John Kennedy awarded him the Space Congressional Medal of Honor. Schools and streets across the country were named after him. And a ticker tape parade in New York City celebrated his mission.”

John Glenn resigned as an astronaut in January 1964. In October 1964 he was promoted to a colonel in the Marine Corps and retired on Jan. 1, 1965, according to NASA.

Glenn was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974. He served four consecutive terms.

In 1998, he flew on the STS-95 Discovery shuttle flight, a nine-day mission.

Glenn died Dec. 8, 2016, in the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Col. John Glenn arrives aboard the carrier USS Randolph, Feb. 20, 1962, after his historic flight around the earth on Mercury’s Friendship 7. (AP Photo/Henry Burroughs) AP

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John Glenn, First American Astronaut to Orbit the Earth in Mercury Friendship 7: 50th Anniversary – ABC News

John Glenn, First American Astronaut to Orbit the Earth in Mercury Friendship 7: 50th Anniversary

Glenn became first American to orbit Earth Feb. 20, 1962.

Feb. 16, 2012 — — The world was such a scary place in 1962 that there were actually Americans who volunteered to leave it.

The Cold War was at its most chilling. The United States had been embarrassed by the first Soviet satellite and the first Soviet cosmonaut. President John F. Kennedy asked his aides if there was something — anything — America could do to beat the Russians in space. NASA tried, but the Atlantic floor off Cape Canaveral was littered with the wreckage of failed rockets.

America did not just need better boosters, it needed bigger heroes. It found seven, the original Mercury astronauts. And the one with whom it most fell in love was John Glenn.

Fifty years ago, on Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn squeezed into his Friendship 7 capsule, circled the earth three times in five hours and became a national hero.

“Zero-G and I feel fine,” he said from his spacecraft. “Man, that view is tremendous.”

Historians’ descriptions of the time describe a mood that seems almost alien now: a nation of people fearful of Soviet attack (the Cuban missile crisis would happen eight months later), glued to their black-and-white TV sets, watching a man in a silver spacesuit climb into a tiny capsule and disappear into the sky.

It was likened to single combat. The Soviets were Goliath. Glenn was David.

“We hadn’t really thought that any nation could even touch us technically,” Glenn said in a 1998 interview with ABC News. “And all at once, here was this bunch of Soviets over there, for heaven’s sake, outdoing the United States of America in technical and scientific things.”

After the flight of the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in May 1961, Kennedy had committed the United States to landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Glenn later said he wondered at the time how NASA would pull it off.

The Atlas rocket that would launch his Mercury capsule was famously unreliable; it had blown up on several test flights. The astronauts had volunteered to leave Earth, but they also planned to return.

Glenn named his spacecraft Friendship 7, honoring his fellow astronauts. He would make three orbits of the earth. His launch was scheduled and scrubbed no fewer than 10 times in four months.

The Flight of Friendship 7

And then it was launch day — Feb. 20, 1962. Glenn woke early, had breakfast, put on his pressure suit and climbed into Friendship 7 before dawn. The countdown moved toward zero. In the control center, Glenn’s backup pilot, Scott Carpenter, keyed a microphone and said, “Godspeed, John Glenn.”

Glenn did not hear him; Carpenter was not on his radio link. Instead, he felt a jolt as the rocket left the launch pad. “Roger, liftoff, and the clock is running. We’re under way.”

The Atlas did not fail. Five minutes later, he was in orbit.

The nation hung on every moment of his flight, one man, alone in the void, in a capsule so small (6 feet in diameter at the base) that he could not stretch out his arms. He reported that weightlessness was pleasant. He marveled at the “fireflies” — later determined to be flecks of frost — that drifted away from Friendship 7 when he rapped on the hull of the spacecraft.

John Glenn’s Friendship 7 Spaceflight, 50 Years Later

Glenn was having a wonderful time. But then, trouble. As he began his second orbit, Mission Control received a signal suggesting that the heat shield, designed to prevent the capsule from burning up during reentry, had come loose. Worried controllers feared they might lose Glenn. They ordered him not to jettison the capsule’s retro rockets, strapped on over the heat shield, after he fired them to descend from orbit.

The outside of the capsule heated to 3,000 degrees as the atmosphere slowed it. Glenn watched as chunks of debris flew past the window and wondered whether it was the retro pack breaking up, or the heat shield.

It held. He splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean. America had probably seen nothing so daring since the transatlantic flight of Charles Lindbergh.

Crowds mobbed him at a ticker-tape parade in New York. Kennedy, who saw Glenn’s star power, welcomed him at the White House. He returned to work at NASA and lobbied for another flight, but the Kennedy administration had quietly let his bosses know he was too much of a national icon to risk in space again.

The Americans would gradually overtake the Soviets in space. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969. But we no longer live in the space age. Glenn has complained publicly that since the space shuttles were retired last year, America has not had a way to launch its own astronauts into orbit. And Glenn’s mantle as hero has only taken him so far; a run for president in 1984 left him in debt for years.

John Glenn is 90 now, dividing his time between Washington and Ohio after a long career in the U.S. Senate. He and his wife Annie have been married for 69 years, slowed only by the inevitable maladies of age.

Glenn did, after years of lobbying, get to fly on a space shuttle mission in 1998. He was 77 by then, arguing that the effects of weightlessness — bone and muscle loss — are similar to the effects of aging. While he was in orbit he said he was having such a good time that he might like another flight after that, but Annie, visibly angry, put a quick stop to that.

“One thing I promised Annie the day we were married,” he once said, “is I would do everything I could to keep life from being boring.”

There Are 2 Seats Left for This Trip to the International Space Station – The New York Times

There Are 2 Seats Left for This Trip to the International Space Station

Axiom Space is selling tickets on a SpaceX capsule for a $55 million, 10-day stay on the orbiting outpost that would be the first to involve no governmental space agencies.

If you have tens of millions of dollars to spare, you could as soon as next year be one of three passengers setting off aboard a spaceship to the International Space Station for a 10-day stay.

On Thursday, Axiom Space, a company run by a former manager of NASA’s part of the space station, announced that it had signed a contract with SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket company, for what might be the first fully private human spaceflight to orbit.

“I think you’ll see a lot more energy in the market as people come to realize it’s real, and it’s happening,” said Michael T. Suffredini, the president and chief executive of Axiom.

The spaceflight, Axiom officials said, could take off as soon as the second half of 2021.

SpaceX developed its Crew Dragon capsule for taking NASA astronauts to and from the space station. But just as the company’s development of its Falcon 9 rocket for taking cargo to the space station led to a vibrant business of launching commercial satellites, SpaceX is also looking to expand Crew Dragon passengers beyond just NASA astronauts.

After a successful test in January of an in-flight escape system, the first Crew Dragon flight carrying two NASA astronauts could launch within a couple of months.

For now, NASA wants a new Crew Dragon for each trip carrying its astronauts, even though the capsules are designed for multiple trips to space. That means a Crew Dragon flown for NASA could be used again for a flight of tourists.

Last month, Space Adventures, another company, announced an agreement with SpaceX to fly a Crew Dragon with up to four tourists for a free-flying trip that would last up to five days. That trip would not dock at the space station. Eric C. Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures, said in an interview the Crew Dragon would fly autonomously but that the passengers would receive training to be ready for various emergencies.

The Space Adventures trip could happen in late 2021 or early 2022. “It’ll be probably right around the 60th anniversary of the John Glenn’s flight,” Mr. Anderson said, referring to the first American to circle Earth, on Feb. 20, 1962.

The capsule and its passengers would take an elliptical path, reaching an altitude two to three times as high as the space station’s orbit.

Mr. Anderson did not provide an exact price, but said the cost would be $10 million to $20 million less than the $50 million to $60 million usually mentioned for orbital trips.

On the planned Axiom flight, one seat would be occupied by a company-trained astronaut who would serve as the flight commander. The other three seats will be for customers who are to spend 10 days in orbit floating inside the space station. The Axiom astronaut would also oversee the space tourists while they were on the station, making sure that they did not interfere with the six crew members.

Mr. Suffredini said that the space station, with as much interior room as a Boeing 747 jetliner, should have enough room for everyone.

He declined to talk about the cost, but in the past, Axiom has confirmed that a seat on the trip will cost $55 million, and it has already signed up one person.

From 2001 to 2009, seven nonprofessional astronauts bought trips to the space station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. In each of these trips, arranged by Space Adventures, the other two astronauts on the spacecraft were working professionals headed for a tour of duty in orbit. Last year, the United Arab Emirates bought a Soyuz seat to jump-start its space program by sending an astronaut, Hazzaa al-Mansoori, to the space station.

The Axiom mission could be the first orbital flight with people aboard without the direct involvement of a governmental space agency.

NASA has in recent years become more receptive to allowing companies to find new ways to make money on the space station. Last June, NASA set up a price list for various commercial activities, including charging companies like Axiom $35,000 a night for each tourist staying at the station for space to sleep and the use of its amenities like air, water, the internet and the toilet. The largest chunk of the $55 million ticket price is for the rocket ride, which Axiom will pay to SpaceX, not NASA.

“NASA has been very forward leaning, and we’re taking advantage of that,” Mr. Suffredini said.

From 2005 to 2015, Mr. Suffredini worked at NASA as program manager for the International Space Station. A year after retiring, he was one of the founders of Axiom, which claims it can build and operate a private facility at a fraction of the $4 billion that NASA spends annually on the International Space Station.

But the first step in that plan is going to the I.S.S.

Axiom has been discussing with NASA the possibility of tourist flights for several years. Last month, NASA also selected Axiom to develop a module that would be attached to the I.S.S. in 2024 and used for commercial business activities. When the space station is eventually retired, the Axiom module would be detached and used as a building block for Axiom’s private space station.

If a trip to orbit seems like too much, two other companies, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, may be on track to carry their first customers on short-hop space tourism flights to the edge of space. Virgin earlier priced seats on its space plane at $250,000, but may now charge more. Blue Origin has not announced the cost of a trip aboard its reusable rocket and capsule, New Shepard.

“I think it’s an important inflection point,” said Mr. Anderson of Space Adventures. Space travel, even if affordable for only a few, is still marker of hope and what humans can and do accomplish, he said.

“I’m hopeful it will be something cool and positive in the world,” he said.