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John Glenn, First American To Orbit Earth, Feted 50 Years After NASA's Friendship 7 Mission (PHOTOS)

John Glenn

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 02/17/2012 2:15 pm Updated: 02/17/2012 2:15 pm

Orbiting Earth seems ho-hum today, in an era when the ISS is ever-present in our skies and space tourism is a growth industry.

Things were different on Feb, 20, 1962. On that day, America cheered as John H. Glenn, Jr. became the first American to orbit the Earth. The former U.S. Marine pilot orbited not once but three times, spending a total of four hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds aboard Friendship 7, his cramped Mercury capsule, before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

The successful mission gave a strong push to the U.S. manned space program, setting the stage for the Apollo program that put a man on the moon. (It also helped launch Glenn's political career--he went on to serve in the U.S. Senate from 1974 to 1999.) But at the time it was credited for helping the U.S. get back into the space race with the Soviet Union, which had bested the West at putting a satellite into space (Sputnik, in Oct. 1957) as well as at putting a man in Earth orbit (cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in April, 1961).

Half a century later, Glenn--now living in Columbis, Ohio--is back in the limelight. And the 90-year-old retired astronaut-turned-politician now serves as a living reminder of American scientific and technological prowess. For a glimpse at Glenn's amazing mission, we've put together this fascinating slideshow.

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  • GLENN BEFORE LAUNCH

    CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - Astronaut John Glenn, Jr. before preperations for launch aboard Mercury Atlas 6. FEB. 20, 1962

  • John Glenn Jogs

    Astronaut John Glenn takes morning exercise, with run on Cocoa Beach, Florida January 1962

  • Glenn and wife Annie Castor Glenn

    Glenn explains a feature of the Mercury capsule to his wife, Annie Castor Glenn, whom he had known since his New Concord, Ohio, childhood.

  • Cape Canaveral Fl Astronaut John Glenn Jr Fully Fitted In His Space Suit Prior To Th

    376998 01: Cape Canaveral, Fl - Astronaut John Glenn, Jr. Fully Fitted In His Space Suit Prior To The Mercury Atlas 6 Launch February 20, 1962. (Photo By Nasa/Getty Images)

  • Glenn Before Launch

  • Glenn Before Launch

  • John Glenn before launch on Mercury

    Astronaut John Glenn prepares to enter the Mercury launch vehicle February 20, 1962 at Cape Canaveral, FL.

  • Glenn entering Mercury capsule

  • John Glenn Inside Friendship 7

  • Friendship 7 Launch

    The Mercury-Atlas rocket for the Friendship 7 mission lifts off, carrying John H. Glenn, Jr., into orbit.

  • John Glenn Onboard Friendship 7

    Astronaut John Glenn photographed in space by an automatic sequence motion picture camera during his flight on "Friendship 7." Glenn was in a state of weightlessness traveling at 17,500 mph as these pictures were taken.

  • Astronaut John Glenn smiles while listen

    Astronaut John Glenn smiles while listening to a speaker during the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the Rotunda of the Capitol November 16, 2011 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

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