Today is the anniversary of a milestone in space exploration, particularly for Americans. On this day in 1962, United States astronaut John Glenn was launched into space on a Mercury-Atlas rocket named Friendship 7. Over a period of just under five hours, Glenn circled the earth three times before splashing down in the North Atlantic.
The iconic phrase “Godspeed, John Glenn,” was said by fellow astronaut M. Scott Carpenter, immediately after launch.
The first human to make a complete orbit of the Earth had been Yuri Gagarin in 1961. Aboard his capsule Vostok 1, Gagarin made one complete orbit of the Earth before returning to earth. The longest manned mission thus far had been Vostok-2, where cosmonaut Gherman Titov made seventeen complete orbits, in August of 1961. The next human to fly in space would be M. Scott Carpenter on Aurora-7, in May of 1962.
John Glenn was a distinguished pilot in both World War II and Korea. After his time with NASA, he went on to serve for 24 years in the United States Senate. This included time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. His political interests included energy policy, nuclear non-proliferation, and environmental issues. He eventually became the oldest man to date to fly in space, when he flew on the space shuttle Discovery during mission STS-95.
He died on December 8, 2016. He he had received a heart valve replacement shortly before his death, and his health had been in general decline for much of that year. He was the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven. After laying in state at the Ohio Statehouse, he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Friendship-7 capsule is on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.