It takes a special kind of courage to willingly strap yourself on top of a jet fuel packed rocket and be blasted into the unexplored frontier of space.

Luckily for the US Space Program, 52-years ago today an unassuming Ohio native, Korean War Veteran and one time test pilot, John Glenn, was the first American to orbit Earth. He also was the oldest man to go to space.

Resting on his shoulders were the hopes of the fledgling NASA’s space agency’s capsule, The Friendship 7. During this time, the U.S. was still trying to play catch up after the Soviet Union shocked the world by launching Sputnik just five years earlier.

There had been a handful of men in space before him, but Glenn did something that no American had ever done before, completed an orbit around the Earth. He orbited three times within five hours.

Upon re-entry, the travel was not as welcoming.  There was a mechanical problem with the automatic control system which forced him to take manual control.

In addition, Mission Control lost contact with Friendship 7 for several minutes while wondering whether the capsule’s parachute would deploy during the searing heat of re-entry. The chute deployed and Glenn returned safely with something to surely go into the history books.

There would be more triumph and tragedy for U.S. astronauts in the years ahead, but John Glenn blazed a trail that helped NASA surpass the Soviets and fulfilled President Kennedy’s promise to land a man on the moon before the 60’s came to an end.

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