On this date 55 years ago astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth when he piloted his Mercury spacecraft Friendship 7 around the earth three times. After four hours and fifty-four minutes the spacecraft re-entered the earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the North Atlantic Ocean.
You can see the Friendship 7 spacecraft by visiting the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
John Glenn was one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. Friendship 7 would be only flight. Glenn quit college after Pearl Harbor and joined the U.S. Army Air Corp, eventually he transferred to the U.S. Marines Corps and would fly 59 combat missions in the Pacific during the second World War, receiving two Distinguished Flying Crosses and ten Air Medals. In 1952 he was ordered to Korea and he flew 63 combat missions during the Korean War. Twice he returned from missions with over 250 holes in his plane. For a time Glenn’s wingman was a fellow named Ted Williams- the greatest hitter in baseball history.
While still in Korea, Glenn applied to become a test pilot.In 1957 he made the first supersonic transcontinental flight, earning his fifth Distinguished Flying Cross. He was selected to be one of the original 7 Mercury astronauts in 1958. His only flight would be Friendship 7 or when he retired that is how it seemed.. He would resign from the U.S Marine Corps and NASA in 1964. At age 42 he was the oldest astronaut and figured to be around 50 by the time NASA went to the moon, so he figured his chances of being chosen were not good.
John Glenn would go on to serve his native Ohio in the U.S. Senate for five terms from December 1974 to January 1999. He ran for president unsuccessfully in 1984.
Amazingly, in 1998 at the age of 77 Glenn returned to space. He became the oldest person to go into space as part of an experiment on how space would effect the aged. He returned on the space shuttle Discovery as a payload specialist in October 1998. The mission would last nine days.
John Glenn died on December 8th, 2016 at the age of 95. An American hero, Glenn was the last surviving Mercury 7 astronaut. As fellow Astronaut Scott Carpenter said when Friendship 7 launched “Godspeed, John Glenn.”