On this day in 1962, Col. John Glenn, USMC, becomes the first American to orbit the Earth. The Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) spacecraft, named Friendship 7, was carried to orbit by an Atlas LV-3B launch vehicle lifting off from Launch Complex 14 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. After three full orbits comprising four hours, 56 minutes in flight the spacecraft re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, splashed down in the North Atlantic and was safely taken aboard the destroyer USS Noa.
Before joining NASA, Glenn was a distinguished fighter pilot in WW2, the Chinese Civil War and Korea. He shot down three MiG-15 aircraft, and was awarded six Distinguished Flying Crosses and 18 Air Medals. In 1957, he made the first supersonic transcontinental flight across the US. His on-board camera took the first continuous, panoramic photograph of the United States.
As devotees of “The Right Stuff” may recall, he was one of the Mercury Seven, military test pilots selected in 1959 by NASA as the United States’ first astronauts. He received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and was feted at a ticker-tape parade in New York City in 1962, received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978, was inducted into the US Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1990, and was the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven.
After serving as a US Senator from Ohio for 24 years, in 1998, Glenn returned to space on the Shuttle Discovery (STS-95) as a Payload Specialist. According to The New York Times, Glenn “won his seat on the Shuttle flight by lobbying NASA for two years to fly as a human guinea pig for geriatric studies.” Hence Glenn became the only sitting senator and oldest known earthling to fly in space.
Glenn blasted off for his final flight December 8, 2016, and it is here our lesson endeth. Or does it?