On this day, 50 years ago, John Hershel Glenn Jr. became the first American astronaut to perform an orbital flight around the Earth. Read about this milestone in space travel after the jump!
The 1960’s was marked by a new political and military tension after the end of World War II. The Cold War, as it became known, set the capitalist United States in conflict against the communist Soviet Union. By the late 1950’s, these two powerful and influential nations would find another arena for their strife: the space.
And so, the so-called space race commenced. The Soviets, much to the unpleasant surprise of most Americans, kicked it off by launching the world’s first artificial satellite and man-made object called Sputnik (Russian word for “traveler”) into the Earth’s orbit in 1957. Four years later, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, and was able to make a full orbit before his return to Earth. American astronaut Alan Shepard Jr. was launched into space in less than a month after Gagarin, but had only done a 15-minute suborbital flight.
Come August 1961, after Russia sent another of its cosmonauts to space to spend more than 25 hours and make 17 orbits, the United States felt the pressure of appearing second-rate compared to its Soviet rival. Finally, on February 20, 1962, the United States sent John Hershel Glenn Jr. to space, who lifted off from the Cape Canaveral launch pad at 9:47 a.m. Manually maneuvering the bell-shaped Friendship 7 after the automatic control system malfunctioned at the last leg of the first orbit ended, Glenn was able to orbit around the earth two more times. His space mission lasted nearly five hours before the spacecraft splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean.
Let’s take a look back at John Glenn’s legacy in these significant photographs: