THIS DAY IN HISTORY: John Glenn’s First Human Orbital Flight for NASA Celebrates 60th Anniversary
By Space Coast Daily // February 20, 2023
launched on Friendship 7 from cape canaveral
ABOVE VIDEO: On Feb. 20, 1962 video at 9:47 am EST, John Glenn launched from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 14 to become the first American to orbit the Earth.
BREVARD COUNTY • CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – On Feb. 20, 1962, John Glenn launched on the Friendship 7 flight, the first human orbital flight for NASA, which premiered this video to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the flight – and has made it available to share with SpaceCoastDaily.com.
The Soviet Union and the United States entered the 1960s locked in a Cold War for the domination of space.
When Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human into space on April 12, 1961, the American space program rose to the occasion, and less than a month later, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to launch into space, and then, on Feb. 20, 1962, John Glenn followed by becoming the first American to orbit the Earth.
Now, 57 years later, NASA is celebrating Glenn’s historic mission, and all Americans have yet another reason to look back at one of the most ambitious periods in our history, and at some of our biggest heroes.
Glenn launched at 9:47:39 am EST from Cape Canaveral, orbiting Earth three times, with his flight lasting 88 minutes and 29 seconds. In total he flew 121,793 km (75,679 miles) reaching a speed of 28,234 km/h (17,544 mph.)
Although the mission was a success, it was nearly a disaster. During his re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, a warning light went on that indicated his capsule’s heat shield was loose.
Though it was a false alarm, no one knew it and technicians on the ground decided to take action.
They felt it was important to keep Friendship 7’s retro-rocket pack attached rather than letting it go upon re-entry. The result was what Glenn saw as a “rear fireball,” the pack burning away as he shot through the atmosphere.
Mercury 6 – Friendship 7
To clarify the numbering system, Mercury 1 was unmanned and failed, but Mercury 1A, also unmanned was a success, followed by a successful Mercury 2 with Ham the chimpanzee on board, who survived the flight.
Mercury 3 and Mercury 4 were the first manned suborbital flights for the US, and were successful.
Mercury 5 was another chimpanzee flight, this time with Enos making the flight in the first use of the Atlas rocket for the Mercury program.
For the Friendship 7 nickname, the 7 represented the seven original Mercury astronauts. As for the name friendship, here’s what John Glenn said in his memoir:
“I set about naming the capsule. Al’s (Shepard) Freedom 7 had struck the right note. Gus (Grissom) in Liberty Bell 7, had been inspired by both patriotism and the capsule’s shape. I had several ideas, but I was trying very hard to keep Dave and Lyn (his children) involved and make them feel a part of my mission. I asked them if they would be willing to think about some names.
“I said, ‘There’s only one ground rule. The world is going to be watching, so the name should represent our country and the way we feel about the rest of the world.’ They pored over a thesaurus and wrote dozens of names in a notebook. Then they worked them down to several possibilities, names and words including; Columbia, Endeavour, America, Magellan, We, Hope, Harmony, and Kindness. At the top of the list was their first choice: Friendship. I was so proud of them. They had chosen perfectly.”
A Transcript of Astronaut John Glenn reporting back to Earth from the Friendship 7 capsule on February 20th, 1962:
This is Friendship 7. Have beautiful view of the African Coast.”
“The horizon is a brilliant, brilliant blue.”
Minutes earlier, he had become the first American to enter orbit around the Earth, and the second person overall after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
By 1962 Glenn was already a decorated fighter pilot who flew in World War II and Korea. He later served as a U.S. Senator for almost 25 years. And in 1998, at age 77, John Glenn returned to orbit on space shuttle Discovery.
He’s now 93 years old and has participated in a number of NASA events to commemorate his landmark flight.
When you’re traveling at 17,000 miles per hour, day turns to night pretty quickly.
“That was sure a short day.”
“Say again, Friendship 7.”
“That was about the shortest day I’ve ever run into.”
“Time passes rapidly, eh?”
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