In Photos: How John Glenn Made History on 1st US Orbital Flight Mercury-Atlas 6

Pre-Flight Checks


Sitting beside his Friendship 7 capsule, astronaut John Glenn, pilot of the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission, is suited up, preparing for the launch. Artist Cecilia Bibby, who painted the Friendship 7 spacecraft, is pictured in the bottom left.

The Future Begins


As astronaut John Glenn boards the Friendship 7 spacecraft with the aide of technicians, the countdown begins its final phase. The Atlas launch vehicle lifted the Mercury module into orbit where the craft and its passenger orbited the Earth three times in just less than 5 hours.

On the Catwalk


Before the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission launched on Feb. 20, 1962, the Friendship 7 capsule, atop the Atlas rocket, stands with the catwalk still attached.

Sacrificing Sleep


As dawn breaks at Cape Canaveral, Florida, press and photographers are ready to record the launch of Mercury-Atlas 6, with John Glenn on board.

An Historic Moment


The Mercury-Atlas 6 launch vehicle and spacecraft lift off successfully on a mission that would set new records and make history.

Images of Home


On Feb. 20, 1962, during the first crewed, orbital American spaceflight, astronaut John Glenn snapped this image of Earth from his "Friendship 7" spacecraft.

Getting a New Perspective


During his Mercury-Atlas 6 mission orbiting Earth on Feb. 20, 1962, astronaut John Glenn saw our Blue Marble from a new frame of reference that no American had ever seen before.

The Edge of the Earth


John Glenn saw the Earth from a maximum altitude of 162 miles (261 km), orbiting the globe three times in 4 hours and 55 minutes.

Sunset in Space


John Glenn's first orbital sunset, a stunning image taken aboard Friendship 7.

Breathtaking Image from Orbit


As the sun sets on the horizon, a blue hue highlights the edge of the world.

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Christine Lunsford
Producer and Contributing Writer

Christine Lunsford joined the team in 2010 as a freelance producer and later became a contributing writer, covering astrophotography images, astronomy photos and amazing space galleries and more. During her more than 10 years with, oversaw the site's monthly skywatching updates and produced overnight features and stories on the latest space discoveries. She enjoys learning about subjects of all kinds.