Inducted in 1978
First American To Orbit The Earth, 1962
On February 20, 1962, Lieutenant Colonel John Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 9:47 a.m. in a small Mercury capsule. Five hours and three earth orbits later, he splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. The 81,000-mile trip made Glenn the first American to orbit the earth.
“Friendship 7” was propelled into space by a powerful Atlas rocket. Though delayed several times, the launch was flawless. However, the automatic steering rockets malfunctioned at the end of the first orbit, forcing Glenn to assume manual control. Shortly after, an electronic indicator warned that the capsule’s heat shield might have come loose. Inspections later found that it was the indicator, not the critically important heat shield, that had failed.
Glenn guided “Friendship 7” back to earth, demonstrating that an astronaut could cope with in-flight emergencies. This flight was the first significant step toward the ultimate goal of landing on the moon in July 1969.