In this historic capsule, John H. Glenn Jr. became the first American to orbit the Earth. Glenn's flight was the third manned mission of Project Mercury, following two suborbital flights by astronauts in 1961. Glenn's three-orbit mission on February 20, 1962, was a sterling success, as he overcame problems with the automatic control system that would have ended an unmanned flight. But reentry was tense, as a faulty telemetry signal from the spacecraft indicated that the heat shield might be loose. Mission Control instructed Glenn not to jettison the retrorocket package after firing in order to better hold the heat shield in place. Glenn reentered successfully and splashed down in the Atlantic 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds after launch.
NASA transferred Friendship 7 to the Smithsonian Institution in 1962, which has exhibited it in buildings on the National Mall ever since.
Photo by Eric Long/NASM, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Courtesy National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution