On February 20, 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth on board the Friendship 7 spacecraft. He circled Earth three times during a nearly five hour mission.
Nurtured in patriotism and tested in war, John Glenn stepped forward to risk the unknown and succeeded spectacularly, lifting his country’s morale and restoring its self-confidence.
From The New York Times obituary:
It was an anxious nation that watched and listened that February morning, as Mr. Glenn, 40 years old, a Marine Corps test pilot and one of the seven original American astronauts, climbed into Friendship 7, the tiny Mercury capsule atop an Atlas rocket rising from the concrete flats of Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The Cold War had long stoked fears of nuclear destruction, and the Russians seemed to be winning the contest with their unsettling ascent into outer space. Two Russians, Yuri A. Gagarin and Gherman S. Titov, had already orbited Earth the year before, overshadowing the feats of two Americans, Alan B. Shepard and Virgil I. Grissom, who had been launched in separate missions only to the fringes of space.
His safe return to Earth imbued new faith that the United States could indeed hold its own against the Soviet Union in the Cold War and might someday prevail.
I was ten years old when Glenn touched the stars. Seven years and six months later America won the space race against the Soviets when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. America was a great country then. It is my prayer it will be again soon.