America’ human spaceflight program bought a much-needed shot within the arm 60 years in the past right now.
On Feb. 20, 1962, NASA astronaut John Glenn launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral inside a tiny capsule named Friendship 7. The Mercury spacecraft circled Earth thrice, finally splashing down close to the Turks and Caicos Islands 4 hours and 55 minutes after liftoff.
It was america’ first-ever crewed orbital spaceflight — a milestone that the nation’s Chilly Conflict rival, the Soviet Union, had notched 10 months earlier, with the landmark mission of Yuri Gagarin.
In photographs: John Glenn’s historic 1st U.S. orbital human spaceflight
Extra: Astronauts, Australian airport mark 60 years since John Glenn’s orbital flight
The U.S. performed catch-up fairly a bit in the course of the early days of the Chilly Conflict house race. For instance, the Soviet Union was the primary nation to launch a satellite tv for pc to orbit (Sputnik 1, in October 1957), the primary to ship an animal to orbit (Laika the canine, in November 1957) and the primary to return dwelling creatures to Earth from an orbital mission (a menagerie headlined by the canine Belka and Strelka, in August 1960; Laika didn’t survive her flight).
After which there was Gagarin’s epic mission. On April 12, 1961, the cosmonaut grew to become the primary particular person to achieve house and in addition the primary to orbit Earth, dealing one other blow to the psyche of American policymakers, nationwide safety officers and the general public at giant.
The jolt went past mere embarrassment, for the Soviet Union gave the impression to be considerably forward of the U.S. in a key space of technological functionality. Rockets carrying animals or individuals to house aren’t so completely different from missiles outfitted with nuclear warheads.
So Glenn’s 5-hour jaunt off the planet was enormous for NASA and the nation.
“His flight on Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962, confirmed the world that America was a severe contender within the house race with the Soviet Union,” NASA officers wrote in a profile of Glenn a couple of years in the past. “It additionally made Glenn an immediate hero.”
The U.S. constructed on that momentum, finally profitable the house race’s grand prize with the profitable completion of the Apollo 11 moon mission in July 1969.
And Glenn, certainly one of NASA’s authentic Mercury 7 astronauts, did not precisely fade into obscurity after the hoopla surrounding his landmark flight died down. He retired from NASA in January 1964 however returned to public service a decade later, profitable election to the U.S. Senate from Ohio in 1974. He received re-election in 1980, 1986 and 1992, serving a complete of 4 phrases within the physique.
“He was thought of one of many Senate’s main consultants on technical and scientific issues, and received broad respect for his work to forestall the unfold of weapons of mass destruction,” NASA officers wrote within the profile. “He took pleasure in utilizing his place on the Governmental Affairs Committee to root out waste in authorities and to wash up the nation’s nuclear supplies manufacturing crops.”
And Glenn ended up going to orbit once more. In October 1998, on the age of 77, he spent 9 days aboard the house shuttle Discovery, turning into the oldest particular person ever to journey to the ultimate frontier. That report stood till July 2021, when aviation pioneer Wally Funk went to suborbital house aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft on the age of 82. “Star Trek” actor William Shatner then wrested the title from Funk simply three months later, flying on a New Shepard mission at 90.
New Shepard, by the way in which, is called after Glenn’s Mercury 7 colleague Alan Shepard, who in Could 1961 grew to become the primary American to achieve house. Shepard flew on a 15-minute suborbital mission, fairly a unique expertise than Glenn’s orbital trek.
Glenn died on Dec. 8, 2016, on the age of 95. His lengthy, productive and provoking life left a big imprint on the historical past books and the American consciousness. NASA’s Glenn Analysis Heart in Ohio is called after the pioneering astronaut, for example. And his Freedom 7 capsule is on show on the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Heart of the Smithsonian Establishment’s Nationwide Air and House Museum in Virginia.
Mike Wall is the writer of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a ebook concerning the seek for alien life. Comply with him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Comply with us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Fb.