Up, Up and Away
February 20, 1962: Friendship 7 launches. Project Mercury was part of NASA’s program to put the first human into space. On that front, they failed. Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space and the first to orbit the Earth when he made his historic flight on April 12, 1961. The Space Race began in 1957 when the Russians launched Sputnik 1. This energized the American government to catch up with their Cold War enemies. Launches were not always successful and the Race continued with a US response to Gagarin’s feat. On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut with his suborbital flight. Soviet Gherman Titov made a day-long orbital flight in August 1961.
On this date, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the planet. Three times. Friendship 7 launched from Cape Canaveral, site LC-14 at 2.47 PM UTC or 9.47 AM local time. The rocket was an Atlas LV-3B 109-D and the trip lasted for 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds before the capsule landed in the sea to be pulled up by USS Noa. John Glenn was 40 years old at the time. The Ohio native had served in the military from 1941-65 with the US Navy and the US Marine Corps. He achieved the rank of Colonel. He was with NASA until his retirement on January 16, 1964. The next day he announced his bid for a US Senate seat from Ohio. Due to an injury, he had to withdraw from the race. He won a Senate seat in 1974 and served through 1999.
The launch was to have taken place on January 16 and then postponed to January 20 due to an issue with the fuel tanks. It was postponed due to weather until January 27. On this day, Glenn was aboard the rocket when the mission was again cancelled at T-29 minutes due to weather conditions. The launch was to be on February 1 but when the technicians began to fuel it, they found a leak. It took two weeks to repair. On February 14, the launch was aborted because of weather and the forecast made it look like February 20th would work. Glenn boarded the spacecraft at 6.03 local time following a 1.5 hour delay to fix a guidance system component. The hatch had 70 bolts and 69 of them worked perfectly, but it caused a 42 minute delay to remove all the bolts, fix the defective bolt, and rebolt the door.
Count to takeoff was resumed and the gantry rolled back at 8.20 AM local time. At 8.58 AM the count was held for 25 minutes while another repair was made. After 2 hours and 17 minutes of holds and 3 hours and 44 minutes after Glenn first entered Friendship 7, we had liftoff. At launch, Glenn’s heart rate increased to 110 beats per minute. Thirty seconds into the flight, the guidance system locked in to put the vehicle into orbit. As the spacecraft passed through Max Q, Glenn reported, “It’s a little bumpy about here.” Then the flight smoothed out. During the orbits, a problem with Segment 51 became apparent. This could affect re-entry. Glenn managed to splashdown 40 miles from the projected site. Seventeen minutes later, Noa was alongside the capsule and pulled her in. Glenn emerged safely.
The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds and to advance the kind of science, math and technology education that will help youngsters take us to the next phase of space travel.
I don’t know what you could say about a day in which you have seen four beautiful sunsets.
I don’t think you can be up here and look out the window as I did the first day and look out at the Earth from this vantage point. We’re not so high compared to people who went to the moon and back. But to look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is, to me, impossible. It just strengthens my faith.
There is still no cure for the common birthday. – all from John Glenn
Also on this day: Iceberg Ahead – In 1856, the ship John Rutledge struck an iceberg and sunk.
Medal of Honor – In 1942, Butch O’Hare was declared the first US flying ace during World War II.
The Met – In 1872, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art opened.
Ice Skating – In 1998, Tara Lipinski won the gold medal at the Olympics.
It’s In the Mail – In 1792, the Postal Service Act was signed into law.