John Glenn – the first American in orbit

An evening pause: On the fiftieth anniversary of John Glenn’s orbital flight.

After putting a chimpanzee into orbit in November, NASA finally felt ready to send a man into orbit to answer the Soviets and their two manned orbital missions of Gagarin and Titov the previous year.

After Glenn’s mission and for the next few months, it looked like the U.S. was catching up with the Soviets in space. That would change before the year was summer was over.

The video below gives a nice summary of key moments in Glenn’s flight, though the special effects of the “fireflies” is poorly done. And we now know that the “fireflies” were nothing more than frozen particles of condensation coming off the capsule.

Fifty years ago: Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight

An evening pause: Fifty years ago today, America’s response to Gagarin and the Soviets, Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight.

Or as he said as he lifted off, “The clock has started.”

The flight actually lasted 15 minutes 22 seconds. Though only a fourth the size of Gagarin’s much bigger Vostok capsule, the Mercury capsule was steerable. During the flight Shepard adjusted the capsule’s pitch, roll, and yaw, proving that humans could pilot a spacecraft manually.