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Looking back at astronaut John Glenn, first American to orbit the Earth

Friendship 7 flight delayed ten times

Astronaut John Glenn photographed in space by an automatic sequence motion picture camera during his flight on Friendship 7. Glenn was in a state of weightlessness traveling at 17,500 mph as these pictures were taken.
Astronaut John Glenn photographed in space by an automatic sequence motion picture camera during his flight on Friendship 7. Glenn was in a state of weightlessness traveling at 17,500 mph as these pictures were taken. (NASA)

Florida – Nearly 60 years ago, Astronaut Col. John H. Glenn, Jr became the first American to orbit the Earth.

Glenn orbited the globe 3 times in 4 hours and 56 mins reaching speeds over 17,000 miles per hour. The Mercury capsule Friendship 7 splashed down just southeast of Bermuda.

Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr., pilot of the Mercury Atlas 6 spaceflight, poses for a photo with the Mercury "Friendship 7" spacecraft. .
Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr., pilot of the Mercury Atlas 6 spaceflight, poses for a photo with the Mercury "Friendship 7" spacecraft. . (NASA)

The Feb. 20 mission was originally scheduled for late January 1962. In fact, the mission was delayed not once, but 10 times. The weather was not the only culprit.

January 23 - 27

On the morning of January 27th, 1962 it was cloudy as people gathered to watch the MA-6 launch. Days prior, the weather was not favorable for liftoff on Jan. 23, delaying it daily until Jan. 27. At T minus 20 minutes the launch was canceled. The mission director stated the clouds were so heavy they would not be able to get the camera coverage of the launch. Col. Glenn had been in the capsule for over five hours.

As crews loaded fuel and did pre-flight checks, a mechanic discovered a leak in the inner bulkhead of the fuel tank. This delay would take up to ten days to fix.

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February 13 - 16

The next launch date was scheduled for Feb. 13 and then pushed back again to Feb. 14 for all the bulkhead work to be completed.

FILE - In this Jan. 2, 1962 file picture, astronaut John Glenn climbs into the "Friendship 7" Mercury capsule at Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this Jan. 2, 1962 file picture, astronaut John Glenn climbs into the "Friendship 7" Mercury capsule at Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo) (AP1962)

Onward and upward went the delay tally. The weather we all know so well this time of year in Florida canceled the launch plans on Feb. 14, 15 and 16 due to adverse conditions.

February 19 - 20

The new target launch date was determined to be Feb. 20, 1962. The weather was beginning to improve with a cold front rolling through. The only concern at the time was the cloud cover at launch. If it was too thick the mission would be delayed yet again.

The weather at the Cape shaped up but there was a total of four holds during the countdown. According to NASA mission records, while replacing the hatch door a bolt broke off and had to be replaced. Once fixed the next hold came when fuel had to be added to the launch vehicle followed shortly by another hold to fill the liquid oxygen tanks following a small malfunction from ground crew systems used to fill it. T minus 2 minutes away from liftoff and one more hold was made to check the computer network in Bermuda. At 9:47 a.m. liftoff commenced and space history was forever changed.

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A Sept. 1966 edition of LIFE Magazine bearing the likeness of John Glenn rests in a showcase at the John & Annie Glenn Museum, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in New Concord, Ohio. Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth, piloting Friendship 7 around the planet three times in 1962. Glenn, as a U.S. senator at age 77, also became the oldest person in space by orbiting Earth with six astronauts aboard shuttle Discovery in 1998. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
A Sept. 1966 edition of LIFE Magazine bearing the likeness of John Glenn rests in a showcase at the John & Annie Glenn Museum, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in New Concord, Ohio. Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth, piloting Friendship 7 around the planet three times in 1962. Glenn, as a U.S. senator at age 77, also became the oldest person in space by orbiting Earth with six astronauts aboard shuttle Discovery in 1998. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (AP)

NASA history reports show an estimated 60 million Americans watched the historic launch on television. Feb. 26 was celebrated in our nation’s capital deemed John Glenn Day. He received several awards and honors over the years including the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was also inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Former astronaut and former U.S. Sen. John Glenn (D-OH) is presented with a Presidential Medal of Freedom by U.S. President Barack Obama during an East Room event May 29, 2012 at the White House in Washington, DC.
Former astronaut and former U.S. Sen. John Glenn (D-OH) is presented with a Presidential Medal of Freedom by U.S. President Barack Obama during an East Room event May 29, 2012 at the White House in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)

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