February 18, 2012
50th Anniversary Of First American To Orbit Earth
Lee Rannals for RedOrbit.com
On February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth aboard Friendship 7.
Glenn boldly stepped-up and joined the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission, which was the sixth mission in the Mercury-Atlas set of missions.
He knew what was at stake, and although the previous mission saw Enos the Chimp land successfully back on Earth, two previous runs by NASA were met with failures.
The first mission, MA-1, only flew 6 miles above Earth before its Atlas rocket suffered a structural failure 58 seconds after launch.
The third mission in the Mercury-Atlas program only lasted 43.3 seconds after launch once the range safety officer terminated the mission as soon as the vehicle failed to follow its roll and pitch programs.
The MA-3 mission is still considered crucial in that NASA was able to see that its launch escape system proved to be successful because it was able to save the Mercury spacecraft from destruction.
Although Enos did not see his fate end above the Atlantic Ocean, Glenn still faced growing anticipation and worry as postponements began to ensue in January 1962 because of problems with the Atlas rocket fuel tanks.
The 50th anniversary of John Glenn circling our globe would have been January 27 if it had not been for inclement weather, postponing the launch until February 1.
More problems with Atlas fuel tanks were found, this time a leak soaked an internal insulation blanket, causing a two week delay.
Finally, on February 20, Glenn took a journey around the world in lightning speed when compared to Ferdinand Magellan's boat ride in the 1500s.
John, locked away in the Friendship 7 spacecraft, was strapped to an Atlas rocket, getting ready to be one of the first few humans to ever see the Earth from a new vantage point.
As the rocket took-off towards the night sky, Glenn's heart climbed up to 110 beats per minute, with him radioing back to NASA "It's a little bumpy about here."
Finally, at what was probably the longest four-and-a-half minutes of his life, Glenn was orbiting Earth.
The Friendship 7 spacecraft crossed the Atlantic, passed over the African coastline, and later over Kano, during which he said he could see a dust storm.
Upon his second orbit, ground controllers were worried about a loose heat shield on the spacecraft, but later found that it was just a faulty "Segment 51" warning light.
In just under five hours, Glenn had seen the sun set three times, and rise three times, completing NASA's manned first orbit around Earth.
Now, 50 years later, astronauts live in space aboard the International Space Station, orbiting the Earth every 91 minutes for the past 4,127 days.
A human orbiting the Earth may have lost some of its flare over the past 50 years due to the frequency of it, but it by no means should make us take what Glenn did lightly.
Given the history of the Mercury-Atlas missions, Glenn had a two out of five shot things were not going to work out, yet he still courageously stepped into the Friendship 7 spacecraft.
His achievement has a direct affect on the accomplishments NASA and its international partners have made over the past 50 years.
By the time the 60th anniversary comes around, space tourism could be a common thing, and orbiting Earth could be a feat any adventurer with $150,000 to spend could accomplish.
However, let´s make sure that as years persist, and space travel gets into the hands of the consumer, we not forget its pioneers like John Glenn who helped us get to where we are today.
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