The United States’ human spaceflight program achieved its much-needed goal today 60 years ago.
On February 20, 1962, NASA astronaut John Glenn launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral inside a small capsule called Friendship 7. The Mercury spacecraft orbited Earth three times, eventually crashing down near the Turks and Caicos Islands four hours and 55 minutes after takeoff.
It was the United States’ first crewed orbital flight – a milestone that the nation’s Cold War rival, the Soviet Union, had achieved 10 months earlier, with a landmark mission. turn Yuri Gagarin.
The United States caught up quite a bit in the early days of The Space Race of the Cold War. For example, the Soviet Union was the first country to launch a satellite into orbit (Sputnik 1in October 1957), the first person to put an animal into orbit (the dog Laika, in November 1957) and the first person to return living things to Earth from an orbital mission ( a barracks with dogs Belka and Strelka, in August 1960; Laika did not survive her flight).
And then there’s Gagarin’s epic mission. On April 12, 1961, the cosmonaut became the first person to go to space and also the first to orbit the Earth, dealing another blow to the psyche of policymakers, security officials. national security and the American public at large.
Confusion went beyond mere embarrassment, for the Soviet Union seems to be significantly ahead of the US in an important area of technological competence. Rockets carrying animals or people into space are not much different from rockets armed with nuclear warheads.
So Glenn’s 5 hour alien trip is huge for NASA and the nation.
NASA officials wrote in a Glenn’s profile a few years ago. “It also makes Glenn an instant hero.”
The United States built on that momentum, eventually winning the grand prize of the space race with the successful completion of Apollo 11 lunar mission in July 1969.
And Glenn, one of the original people of NASA Mercury Astronaut 7, did not completely fade away after the commotion surrounding his landmark flight died down. He retired from NASA in January 1964 but returned to public service a decade later, winning election to the United States Senate from Ohio in 1974. He was re-elected in the 1980s. , 1986 and 1992, serving a total of four terms in the agency.
“He is considered one of the Senate’s foremost experts on scientific and technical issues, and is widely respected for his work in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. “, NASA officials wrote in the filing. “He’s proud to use his position on the Government Affairs Committee to root out waste in government and clean up the nation’s nuclear material plants.”
And Glenn finally returned to orbit. In October 1998, at the age of 77, he spent nine days aboard the space shuttle Discovery, becoming the oldest person to ever travel to the last frontier. That record holds until July 2021, when the airline pioneers Wally Funk went to suborbital space on board Blue originSpaceship New Shepard at the age of 82. “Star Trek” actor William Shatner then took the title from Funk just three months later, flew on the New Shepard mission at the age of 90.
New ShepardsNamed after Glenn’s colleague Mercury 7, by the way Alan Shepard, who in May 1961 became the first American in space. Shepard flew on a 15-minute suborbital mission, an entirely different experience from Glenn’s orbital trip.
Glenn Died December 8, 2016, at the age of 95. His long, fruitful and inspiring life has left a great mark on American history and consciousness. For example, NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio is named after a pioneer astronaut. And his Freedom 7 capsule is on display at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Virginia.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow them on Twitter @Spacedotcom or above Facebook.
https://www.space.com/john-glenn-first-american-orbital-flight-60-year-anniversary Making space flight history: John Glenn orbited the Earth 60 years ago today