The World's Forum for Aerospace Leadership

  • Donate
  • Press Room
  • Renew
  • View Cart
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics



    AIAA Salutes 50th Anniversary of John H. Glenn Jr. Becoming the First American to Orbit the Earth
    “Friendship 7” Mission Entered Orbit on February 20, 1962

    February 20, 2012 – Reston, Va. – The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) salutes the 50th anniversary of John H. Glenn Jr.’s “Friendship 7” mission, known officially as the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission, and his becoming the first American to orbit the Earth. With fellow Mercury astronaut M. Scott Carpenter uttering “God speed, John Glenn,” over the NASA Capsule Communication equipment, Glenn’s mission began at 9:47 a.m. on the morning of February 20, 1962. Glenn orbited the Earth three times during the mission, spending four hours, fifty-five minutes and twenty-three seconds in orbit around the earth, covering a distance of 75,679 miles.

    Dr. Michael D. Griffin, president-elect of AIAA, and former NASA administrator, stated: "The thing we should honor about John Glenn is not that he was one of the world's first spacefarers, or that he was the first American in orbit at a time when that was an almost unimaginable feat, from an era whose values and imperatives are incomprehensible to most of our nation today. What we should honor about John Glenn is that this bold gamble, his willingness to lay his life on the line for a mission important to his country, was really only one event on one day in a lifetime of service to his nation and the world. In World War 2 and Korea, then later on the frontiers of flight test in the pioneering years of the jet age and of astronautics, and still later as a U.S. Senator, John Glenn gave of himself – his time, his heart, his soul – in service to others. And, what is more, he did it modestly and unassumingly, never setting himself above another.” Griffin continued: “In all of this he has been accompanied by his beloved Annie, the companion of a lifetime. No man ever had a better one. If there is a quintessential American couple, it is John and Annie Glenn. We are indeed fortunate that they are both with us to share this 50th Anniversary of American orbital flight. But we should honor them, John and Annie Glenn, not merely because of this event, but because of the way in which this event is so completely emblematic of the way in which they have lived their entire lives."

    Glenn later served as a U.S. Senator from his native Ohio. In addition to being the first American to orbit the Earth, Glenn is also the oldest human to have gone into space. On October 29, 1998, at age 77, Glenn joined the crew of space shuttle Discovery (STS-95) on its nine day mission to perform a variety of experiments furthering our understanding of the human body, as well as furthering our understanding of how the sun affects life on Earth. NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center, in Cleveland, Ohio, is named in his honor.


    AIAA is the world’s largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession. With more than 35,000 individual members worldwide, and 90 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia, and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space, and defense. For more information, visit



    American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
    1801 Alexander Bell Drive, Suite 500, Reston, VA 20191-4344
    Phone: 703.264.7558 Fax: 703.264.7551