‘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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