Indefinitely Wild

Ten Images from John Glenn’s First Mission to Space

The pioneering astronaut was the first American to orbit earth. He died Thursday.

Astronaut John Glenn, prior to his Mercury-Atlas 6 mission. (NASA)

On February 20, 1962, John Glenn strapped himself inside a tiny black capsule mounted atop an intercontinental ballistic missile and launched into space. Four hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds later, he splashed down in the Atlantic ocean, having completed three orbits of Earth. 

Glenn was the third American to ever enter space and the first to orbit the earth. He died Thursday, aged 95. 


Astronaut John Glenn

Astronaut John Glenn enters the Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, prior to the launch of MA-6 on February 20, 1961 and became the first American who orbited the Earth. The MA-6 mission was the first manned orbital flight boosted by the Mercury-Atlas vehicle, a modified Atlas ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile), lasted for five hours, and orbited the Earth three times. (NASA)

Glenn’s orbital path carried him over Perth, Australia, during the dead of night. To mark his passage, the entire city turned on every available light—including car headlights—so that he might see them. 

“The last of America's first astronauts has left us, but propelled by their example we know that our future here on Earth compels us to keep reaching for the heavens,” stated President Obama. 


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Orbital sunset photographed by astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. aboard the "Friendship 7" during his Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) spaceflight. (NASA)

Glenn barely qualified to become a member of the Mercury 7, NASA’s first group of astronauts. Competing in a selection of 508 military test pilots, he lacked the required science degree and barely squeaked under the 40-year-old age limit. But his esteemed career in the military ultimately counted in his favor. Glenn flew 149 total combat missions across WWII and the Korean war, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal (with 18 award stars), and the nickname “Magnet Ass,” given for his ability to attract enemy flak.


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Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. (left), Dr. William Douglas, astronauts flight surgeon, and equipment specialist Joe Schmitt leave crew quarters prior to Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) mission. Glenn is in his pressure suit and is carrying the portable ventilation unit. (NASA)

By 1957, Glenn had accrued 9,000 hours of flight time, and was selected to complete the first supersonic transcontinental crossing of the United States. The flight from Los Alamitos, California, to Floyd Bennett Field, in New York, took three hours, 23 minutes, and 8.3 seconds. 


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A camera onboard the "Friendship 7" Mercury spacecraft photographs astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. during the Mercury-Atlas 6 spaceflight. (NASA)

Glenn was famously portrayed by Ed Harris in the the 1983 blockbuster The Right Stuff. The movie humanized the space race and made its epic struggle relevant to a new generation.


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Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. looks into a Celestial Training Device (globe) during training in the Aeromedical Laboratory at Cape Canaveral, Florida. (NASA)

In 1998, at the age of 77, Glenn returned to space as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery, becoming the oldest person to ever return to this planet. 


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Mercury astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. has a biosensor attached to his body during astronaut training activities at Cape Canaveral, Florida. (NASA)


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Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr., suited with hose to suit ventilation unit attached, during altitude chamber test. He is standing in the entrance to the test chamber with his helmet visor down. (NASA)


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Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr., pilot of the Mercury Atlas 6 spaceflight, emerges from an egress trainer during training activity at the Langley Research Center. He is attempting to transfer onto a life raft from the mock-up of the Mercury capsule. (NASA)


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The launch of the MA-6, Friendship 7, on February 20, 1962. Boosted by the Mercury-Atlas vehicle, a modified Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), Friendship 7 was the first U.S. marned orbital flight and carried Astronaut John H. Glenn into orbit. Astronaut Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. (NASA)

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Glenn was the third person to enter space and the first to orbit earth. Outside regrets the error.

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