DR. SKY BLOG

Remembering astronaut John Glenn’s orbit around Earth 60 years ago this week

Feb 23, 2022, 2:00 PM

At Launch Pad 14, astronaut John H. Glenn squeezes into the Friendship 7 capsule. (NASA Photo, File...

At Launch Pad 14, astronaut John H. Glenn squeezes into the Friendship 7 capsule. (NASA Photo, File)

(NASA Photo, File)

Where were you on Feb. 20, 1962?

Sixty years has gone by real fast, with the launch of astronaut John Glenn on that date in 1962. He was the first American to orbit the Earth, as there were many eyes on that historic launch.

I remember the launch very well: as a 6-year old living in the New York City area, we were all watching the launch live on our grammar school’s little black and white television.

Just to clarify, the first American in space was astronaut Alan Shepard, who was launched into a sub-orbital flight back on May 5, 1961. He was launched into space aboard his little Mercury capsule named Freedom 7.

The craft was known as the Mercury-Redstone 3.

He was launched to a height of 101 miles above the Earth for 15 minutes.

This is very similar to many of the new space venture firms like Blue Origin in offering suborbital flights.

The launch vehicle was the Redstone rocket, which has some 78,000 pounds of thrust.

Yuri Gagarin was the first human to orbit the Earth back on April 12, 1961 in his Vostok 1 spacecraft.

His mission was an amazing feat for the Soviet Union and the launch is outlined here in this video.

Back in the USA, Glenn was launched into space on a more powerful rocket – the Atlas booster rocket. The rocket is outlined here.

The capsule in which he was launched was known as the Friendship 7 craft MA-6 and has a long history in the U.S. space program. The details of this Mercury capsule can be found here.

It has been one of the greatest honors of my broadcast career to have had the opportunity to speak with Glenn in a short but interesting interview with him, regarding the importance of Space Day.

Here is my interview with Glenn.

Here is more on National Space Day.

Back in 1962 the mission of Friendship 7 was a major space event, with Glenn orbiting the Earth three times in a mission which lasted 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds.

There was a near potential for disaster with the mission as a faulty heat shield indicator light gave the impression that the much-needed heat shield for re-entry might have come loose.

After careful examination, the shield’s warning light was in error and the craft made a safe re-entry into the atmosphere.

Glenn got some amazing views of Cape Canaveral and the state of Florida from orbit.

Glenn had a most memorable career, not only as an astronaut but a U.S. senator and one of the oldest astronauts to return to space, this time aboard the space shuttle Discovery on STS-95.

He passed away Dec. 8, 2016, at the age of 95.

His life is outlined here.

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Remembering astronaut John Glenn’s orbit around Earth 60 years ago this week