The Soviet Union had dominated the Space Race in the late 1950s and early 1960s with a two significant firsts: first satellite launch (Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957) and first man in space (Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961).
America decided to step up its game. Under President John F. Kennedy, the government had set itself lofty goals - including a manned Moon landing later in the decade.
John Glenn, the man selected to be the first American to orbit the Earth, had been a distinguished World War II fighter pilot and in 1957 had made the first supersonic transcontinental flight across America.
On February 20, 1962, he orbited the Earth three times aboard his Friendship 7 spacecraft in just under five hours.
After his NASA career ended, Glenn became a politician, serving as a senator for Ohio from 1974 until 1999.
Source: Wikimedia Commons/NASA
- 1957-07-16 US Marine Major John Glenn sets transcontinental speed record (03:28:08)
- 1962-02-20 John Glenn becomes the 1st American to orbit the Earth, aboard Friendship 7
- 1998-01-15 NASA announces John Glenn, 76, may fly in space again
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