Video: NASA Astronaut John Glenn on ‘Weirdest’ Training For Historic Flight

By  //  February 23, 2016

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first American to orbit the Earth

ABOVE VIDEO: The multiple-axis space test inertia facility, fondly called “the gimbal rig,” simulated tumble-type maneuvers that might be encountered in space flight. From February 15 through March 4, 1960, the gimbal rig provided valuable training for all seven Project Mercury astronauts. John Glenn explains how it worked and what the experience was like.

On February 20, 1962, NASA astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in his Mercury capsule Friendship 7. 

In 4 hours and 56 minutes, John Glenn circled the globe three times, reaching speeds of more than 17,000 miles per hour. The successful mission concluded with a splashdown and recovery in the Atlantic Ocean, 800 miles southeast of Bermuda.

In this video, Glenn discusses the Multiple Axis Space Test Inertia Facility, informally known as the “gimbal rig,” used to train the “Original Seven” Mercury astronauts for America’s first human spaceflights.

The rig, which simulated an out of control spacecraft and required the astronauts to bring it back under control, was located at what was then NASA’s Lewis Research Center near Cleveland, Ohio. That center now bears Glenn’s name.

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Glenn describes the rig as “one of the more demanding tests or training exercises” in all the Mercury training and recalls with laughter that he and the other Mercury astronauts “grew to hate that gimbal rig passionately.”