This is the 58th anniversary of America’s first orbital flight. Mercury-Atlas 6 was codenamed Friendship 7. It took place on February 20, 1962, with American astronaut (and future senator) John Glenn going up for almost five hours of space flight, going around the Earth a little over seven times.

Launch of Friendship 7 {image via NASA}

John H. Glenn was the fifth human being in space, after Yuri Gagarin, Alan Shepard, Virgil “Gus Grissom, and Gherman Titov.

This flight would lead to manned lunar expeditions in 1969. Possibly the new Space Force will return to the moon.

Although originally planned for January 16, 1962, the flight was delayed multiple times because of minor technical difficulties and weather problems. February 20, 1962, USMC fighter pilot John H. Glenn, Jr. boarded the Friendship 7. Three hours, forty-four minutes later engineer T. J. O’Malley launched the spacecraft. Minutes later Glenn became the third American in space.

Glenn had been a fighter pilot in WWII and Korea. As the pilot and sole passenger of the Friendship 7, Glenn made three orbits before returning to Earth. He experienced technical difficulties, with his heat shield coming loose and needing to control the spacecraft manually for much of the descent. The flight lasted 4 hours, 48 minutes, 27 seconds.

Despite the problems, Glenn splashed down within forty miles of the planned splashdown zone. He was rescued by the USS Noa, a destroyer.

Mercury spacecraft # 13 – Friendship 7 – went on a world tour and is currently displayed at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C

Glenn returned to space in 1998 aboard the space shuttle Discovery, when he was 77, making him the oldest person to go into space. He represented his home state of Ohio in the U.S. Senate from 1974 to 1999. He died in 2016, having served his country honorably in war and peace.