First American in Orbit


First American in Orbit was John Glenn. He was launched on 20 February 1962 in the Friendship 7 spacecraft.

First American in Orbit

Mercury Seven

In April 1959, John Glenn was selected as a Project Mercury astronaut. He became part of the Mercury Seven group, the first astronauts selected by NASA. Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight program of the United States, running from 1958 through 1963.


An Atlas rocket launched a space capsule (Mercury Spacecraft) with Astronaut John Glenn on 20 February 1962 at Cape Canaveral. The space capsule was called Friendship 7. John Glenn made three orbits around the Earth before returning safely in his capsule.

The flight time was four hours and 56 minutes. Friendship 7 spacecraft re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean and was safely taken aboard the USS Noa Navy ship.

During his flight he flew over Perth, Western Australia and the people of Perth turned on their lights to acknowledge his mission. John Glenn observed the city was clearly visible from space and Perth became known worldwide as the ‘City of Light’.

John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. This was NASA’s first manned orbital flight.

People who flew before John Glenn were:

1. Yuri Gagarin – First Man in Space
2. Gherman Titov – Second Man in Space
3. Alan Shepard – First American in Space
4. Gus Grissom – Second American in Space

John Glenn’s flight on 20 February 1962 put the United States into a space race with the Soviet Union, which had launched cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit 10 months earlier.

John Glenn became a national hero, met President Kennedy and received a parade in New York City.

Space Shuttle Mission

John Glenn returned to space at age 77 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery STS-95 in 1998, making him the oldest person to fly in space.

STS-95 Space Shuttle mission was launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida on 29 October 1998 carrying 7 astronauts. The orbiter landed at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility on 7 November 1998.

50 Years in Space Anniversary

John Glenn with Annie Wife with Friendship 7 capsuleTo commemorate the 50th anniversary of Glenn’s orbit, NASA’s celebration of Glenn’s achievement began Friday 17 February 2012 at Cape Canaveral.

More than 1,000 people, including 200 Project Mercury veterans gathered at Kennedy Space Center with astronauts John Glenn and Scott Carpenter on Saturday to celebrate the golden anniversary of America’s first two orbital human space expeditions.

The festivities moved to on Monday to Columbus, Ohio on the actual anniversary. John Glenn was honored at a gala at Ohio State University; the school of public affairs bears his name.

His wife Annie and their two children accompanied him to all the festivities.

Did you know?

*  Friendship 7 is on display in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.

*  As of February 2012,  John Glenn and fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter, 86, are the lone survivors of NASA’s original Mercury 7 astronauts.

* John Glenn is the oldest person to fly in space, at age 77 aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1998. U.S. senator for four terms and one-time presidential candidate. Namesake of a NASA center as well as a university’s school of public affairs.

*  This was the first spacecraft in space – Sputnik 1. It was the USA’s competitor – the Soviet Union.

First Spacecraft in Space


First American in Orbit Links:

Glenn Orbits the Earth | NASA:
This date in science: John Glenn first American to orbit Earth:
John Glenn: First American to Orbit the Earth | HistoryNet:
What John Glenn Saw When He Became the First American to Orbit Earth:
An American orbits earth – Feb 20, 1962:
City of light – 50 years in Space | Western Australian Museum:


Cold War Anxiety: The first human made object is put into orbit around earth (Picture 19 Feb 2012).

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