On this day a half century ago, Mercury Astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. On the morning of February 20, 1962, an anxious nation watched as Glenn climbed into his cramped Friendship 7 space capsule and was propelled by an Atlas 6 rocket high above the atmosphere. He circled the Earth three times before re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. As the veteran space program reporter John Noble Wilford wrote last week in The New York Times, “Perhaps no other spaceflight–all 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds of it–has been followed by so many with such paralyzing apprehension.”
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