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Astronaut John Glenn and the Friendship 7 Mission

Astronaut John Glenn During Friendship 7 ReentryJohn Glenn blasted into orbit on February 20, 1962, part of a space race between the United States and the Soviet Union in which the Americans were lagging. The successful completion of Glenn's mission (he orbited the Earth three times) did much to restore American prestige worldwide.

February 20, 1962

Encased in a bulky, pressurized suit, strapped into a seat, and crammed into a tiny capsule, Glenn put his life at risk as he traveled at 17,500 miles per hour 160 miles above Earth. With great skill, courage, and grace, Glenn piloted the spacecraft manually as the autopilot function failed, and Mission Control wondered whether the capsule's life-saving heat shield would hold while reentering the atmosphere. Glenn returned to Earth after 5 hours, suffering no injury more severe than scraped knuckles, sustained as he prepared to exit the capsule after a safe splashdown.

Detail of John Glen in his Space SuitAfter Glenn began his second orbit, Mission Control received a signal that the heat shield, designed to prevent the capsule from burning up during reentry, was loose. Although it could have been a faulty signal, Mission Control took no chances. Normally, the retropacket package would be jettisoned after the rockets were fired to slow the capsule for reentry. In this case, however, Glenn was ordered to retain the retropack to hold the heat shield in place.

These pages of the official flight transcript of Glenn's 1962 spaceflight document the reentry. While struggling to maintain control of the spacecraft, Glenn watched as huge chunks flew past the window and wondered whether it was the retropack or heat shield breaking up. The heat shield held. If it hadn't, Glenn and his capsule would have been incinerated.

Additional Resources

Glenn's Space Flight, John F. Kennedy Library and Museum

For additional photographs and documents about John Glenn,
search the NARA Archival Research Catalog (ARC).
Type the key words "John Glenn" into the "Keywords" box.

Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Office of Policy and Plans, NASA History Office

Image Top Right:
"Astronaut John Glenn photographed in space traveling at 17,500 mph,"
February 20, 1962
National Archives and Records Administration
Records of the U.S. Information Agency
(NARA Still Pictures Reference 306-PSD-67-1647)

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Image Bottom Left:
"U.S. Astronaut John H. Glenn..."
December, 1961 (Detail)
NARA Still Pictures Reference

Enlarged View


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