John Glenn Turns 93: A Look At The First American Who Orbited Earth

John Glenn is one of the few men to complete an extraordinary feat: orbit the Earth. Today he turns 93 and we take a look at this incredible man, who has captured American minds and hearts throughout history.

The legendary astronaut was selected to be part of the Mercury Seven, the group that would build the path to ultimately land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. John Glenn became the first NASA astronaut to orbit the Earth and only the fifth person in the world to go to space.

In order to successfully put a man on the moon, NASA had to first be able to send him into space and return him home safely. On February 20, 1962, the space agency launched a mission to attempt the feat and John Glenn — who piloted the flight — was an instant American hero.

According to NASA, the men selected for the mission had to meet seven very important requirements. To be considered for the Manned Space Program, the astronauts had to be test pilot school graduates, in excellent physical shape, less than 40 years old, shorter than five-feet 11-inches, qualified jet pilots, have at least 1,500 hours flying time, and a bachelors’ degrees in engineering. John Glenn met all of them.

In 1958, Glenn participated in several tests along with 508 other men. In April of 1959, the legendary pilot was selected to be a part of the Mercury Seven — the first group of astronauts NASA would send into space. Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton were also picked to go on the biggest space adventure in history.

Following three years of intensive training, John Glenn was ready to make history. In 1962, he lifted off aboard the Mercury capsule Friendship 7, becoming the first American to orbit Earth.

The historical flight was not without problems. 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, according to

It took John Glenn four hours and 56 minutes to orbit the globe three times, reaching speeds of more than 17,000 miles per hour. Glenn returned to Earth landing in the Atlantic Ocean, 800 miles southeast of Bermuda.

On October 29, 1998, at 77, John Glenn became the oldest person to fly in space and the first astronaut to do so in the Mercury and Space Shuttle Programs by flying in the Discovery (STS-95) mission. Happy Birthday to one of the greatest and most inspiring American heroes, John Glenn.

[Images via NASA and Time Inc.]