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60-Second Space

John Glenn Orbited 50 Years Ago Today

On February 20, 1962, John Glenn went to space, becoming the first American in orbit, and a national icon. John Matson reports

“This is Friendship 7. Have beautiful view of the African Coast.”

That was astronaut John Glenn reporting back to Earth from the Friendship 7 capsule on February 20th, 1962. Exactly 50 years ago.

“The horizon is a brilliant, brilliant blue.”

Minutes earlier, he had become the first American to enter orbit around the Earth, and the third person in orbit overall.*

By 1962 Glenn was already a decorated fighter pilot who flew in World War II and Korea. He later served as a U.S. Senator for almost 25 years. And in 1998, at age 77, John Glenn returned to orbit on space shuttle Discovery. He's now 90 years old and is participating in a number of NASA events to commemorate his landmark flight.

One thing Glenn learned on that first trip to orbit 50 years ago—when you're zooming along at 17,000 miles per hour, day turns to night pretty quickly.

“That was sure a short day.”

“Say again, Friendship 7.”

“That was about the shortest day I've ever run into.”

“Time passes rapidly, eh?”

“Yes Sir.”

—John Matson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

[For all the audio between Glenn and ground, go to http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/history/mercury/ma-6/sounds/]

[*Correction (2/21/12): An earlier version of this podcast incorrectly stated that Glenn was the second person in orbit overall.]

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