Ask OCE — February 24, 2006 — Vol. 1, Issue 5
This Week in NASA History
On February 20, 1962, Friendship 7 (MA-6) embarked on its historic voyage into space, making astronaut John Glenn the first American to orbit the earth. At 9:47 A.M., after 2 hours and 17 minutes of holds, Atlas 109-D lifted off towards space. Mission announcer Powers spoke the words an anxious nation had waited to hear: "Glenn reports all spacecraft systems go! Mercury Control is go!" The liftoff barely bothered Glenn but about 100 seconds into the mission at max-q he said: "It’s getting a bit bumpy about here."
Two minutes and 14 seconds after launch, the outboard booster engine cut off and dropped away. After tower separation, the spacecraft pitched over allowing Glenn to see the horizon for the first time, which he described as "a beautiful sight, looking eastward across the Atlantic."
At 9:52, Glenn was cleared for seven orbits though the Goddard's computers judged the orbital insertion conditions good enough for nearly a hundred orbits.
Near the end of the first orbit, the tracking station at Guayamas, Mexico informed the control center in Florida that a yaw reaction jet was causing Friendship 7 to experience an altitude control problem. As Glenn put it, the problem would "stick with me for the rest of the flight."
The yaw jet problem was of serious concern to the operations team. A sticking fuel valve had caused the early termination of MA-5 with the chimpanzee Enos on board. Upon noticing the problem, Glenn switched to his manual-proportional control mode and eased the spacecraft back onto its proper track, demonstrating that the flexibility of a human pilot could effectively overcome a problem with the reliability of a machine.
Glenn quickly became an international sensation and an American icon. The Mercury 7 entourage — headed by Glenn, his family, and Vice President Johnson — passed in review on February 26th before an estimated 250,00 onlookers who braved the rainy Washington weather to catch a glimpse of the newly famous astronaut. He then gave an informal report to a joint session of Congress. A few days later, New York City deemed March 1 "John Glenn Day".
Glenn's spacecraft, McDonnell capsule No. 13, went on a global tour of 17 nations and Hawaii. On the first anniversary of the flight, Friendship 7
was put into the Smithsonian Institution near the original Wright Brother's plane and Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis