On Feb. 20, 1962, NASA launched one of the most important flights in American history. The mission? Send a man to orbit Earth, observe his reactions and return him home safely. The pilot of this historic flight, John Glenn, became a national hero and a symbol of American ambition.
NASA’s Multiple Axis Space Test Inertia Facility, or Gimbal Rig, was one of the many facilities where Glenn trained for their missions.
After three years of training, Glenn rocketed into space aboard the Mercury capsule Friendship 7. He became the third American in space and the first to orbit Earth. The historical flight was no easy feat. At the end of his first orbit, a yaw attitude jet clogged, forcing Glenn to abandon the automatic control system and use the manual electrical fly-by-wire system.
In 4 hours and 56 minutes, John Glenn circled the globe three times, reaching speeds of more than 17,000 miles per hour. The successful mission concluded with a splashdown and recovery in the Atlantic Ocean, 800 miles southeast of Bermuda.
John Glenn instantly became a hero. President John Kennedy awarded him the Space Congressional Medal of Honor. Schools and streets across the country were named after him. And a ticker tape parade in New York City celebrated his mission.