First American in Orbit
The Americans launched a chimpanzee named Enos into space on 29 November 1961, and the spacecraft went into orbit without a hitch. It was originally scheduled to complete 3 orbits but was brought back after the second because it was not maintaining proper altitude.
According to reports, Enos seemed glad to be back. He jumped for joy and ran around the deck of the recovery ship, enthusiastically shaking hands with the crew.
The next step was to send a man into orbit, and the astronaut chosen for the mission was John Herschel Glenn Jr.
Glenn was launched into orbit atop an Atlas rocket on 20 February 1962, and he made three revolutions of Earth. He used hand controls to guide the Mercury capsule which he had named ‘Friendship 7’ (7 stood for the seven astronauts who had been selected to become America’s first astronauts), showing that a man could safely pilot a spacecraft in orbit.
Ground Control had a scare during his second orbit when it looked as if the spacecraft’s heat shield was loose. Fortunately it turned out to be a false alarm. Had the heat shield really been loose it could have come off during re-entry, and Glenn would have been burnt to a crisp. As it happened he splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean.
His flight had lasted almost 5 hours.
He had gone up an ordinary astronaut but he came down a hero, having become the first American to go into orbit.
In May that year, another American, Scott Carpenter, repeated Glenn’s feat, orbiting Earth 3 times in his spacecraft, Aurora 7. He too landed successfully in the Atlantic, but he came down more than 320 kilometres beyond the intended landing area and beyond radio range of the recovery forces. America held its breath for almost an hour till a search plane finally spotted him on a raft beside his craft.