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  • Writer's picturebidyut gogoi

The Ascent of an American Hero

This coming Sunday, February 20, 1962, marks 60 years since American astronaut John Glenn launched from Cape Canaveral on Florida's east coast on a mission that marked a turning point in the race for space between the US and the USSR.

Glenn completed three Earth orbits in the four hours and 55 minutes between liftoff and splashdown. His success pushed American efforts to land a person on the moon before the decade was over. Glenn became a national hero as a result, paving the way for a political career.

Glenn had to work hard to become a legend. His flight, Friendship 7, was first delayed several times and didn't take off on Jan. 16 as planned.

A thruster led to directional control issues once in orbit. Glenn had to fly the ship manually for its final two orbits to fix minor problems with the craft's automated control system.

A sensor warned Mission Control to the likelihood that the heat shield that would shelter Glenn and the craft's cargo from being burned by the heat of reentry into the atmosphere would separate from the spacecraft, which led to the most significant problem. Glenn and Mission Control were on the verge of disaster for several minutes.

However, it turned out that the warning was unfounded, and Glenn safely touched down in the Atlantic Ocean.

In reality, his flight wasn't particularly remarkable or record-breaking.

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