On This Day in History - February 20, 1962
John Glenn posing outside his Friendship 7 capsule. Credits: NASA
After three years of training, John Glenn rocketed into space aboard the Mercury capsule Friendship 7. He became the third American in space and the first to orbit the Earth. The historical flight was no easy feat. Friendship 7's automatic control system began to malfunction, sending the capsule into erratic movements. At the end of the first orbit, Glenn switched to manual control and regained command of the craft.
John Glenn enters his Friendship 7 capsule. Credits: NASA
In 4 hours and 56 minutes, John Glenn circled the globe three times, reaching speeds of more than 17,000 miles per hour. The successful mission concluded with a splashdown and recovery in the Atlantic Ocean, 800 miles southeast of Bermuda.