On February 20, 1962, John Glenn made the United States’ first orbital spaceflight, zipping around our planet three times in his Friendship 7 capsule before splashing down safely in the Atlantic Ocean.
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The mission put the nation on even footing with the Soviet Union, which had first pulled off the feat in April 1961. As it celebrates the 50th anniversary of Glenn’s historic flight, which helped propel NASA toward unprecedented accomplishments in human spaceflight, the agency lacks the ability to replicate his achievement. Since NASA’s space shuttle fleet retired in July 2011, the U.S. now depends on Russia to transport American astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit. It’s an irony that is not lost on Glenn. Glenn’s flight brought NASA key momentum after several years of Soviet space dominance. Many years later, John Glenn made his second flight as a specialist of payload on a space ship Discovery (STS-95) October 29 – November 7, 1998.In 1998, when Glenn was 77, he became the oldest person to fly in space. Now 90, Glenn is the namesake of a NASA research center in Cleveland and a public affairs school at Ohio State. He’s given the university more than a thousand boxloads of materials and artifacts to display, including the hand controller with which he flew the Friendship 7 capsule on that historic orbit 50 years ago.