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The Historic Flight of Mercury 6

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Yesterday, February 20th, marked the 49th anniversary of Astronaut John Glenn's historic 1962 flight aboard the NASA spacecraft Friendship 7 -- when he became the first American (and third human being) to orbit the Earth. After being postponed ten times, the launch finally boosted Glenn into space, where he made three successful orbits at 17,400 miles per hour, returning safely home to a national celebration. Decades later, in 1998, Glenn ventured into space one more time, at age 77 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, to study the effects of space flight on the elderly. Below are images gathered from NASA's early Mercury Project, which lead up to Glenn's famous journey. [28 photos]

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NASA's Mercury astronaut, John Glenn sits inside a training capsule on January 11th, 1961, in preparation for manned space flight. (AP Photo/Harvey Georges)
NASA's Mercury astronaut, John Glenn sits inside a training capsule on January 11th, 1961, in preparation for manned space flight. (AP Photo/Harvey Georges)
John H. Glenn, one of the Mercury Seven Astronauts , runs through a training exercise in the Mercury Procedures Trainer at the Space Task Group, Langley Field, Virginia. This Link-type spacecraft simulator allowed the astronaut the practice of both normal and emergency modes of systems operations. (NASA) #
The original seven Mercury astronauts pose with a model of an Atlas rocket on July 12, 1962. (NASA)#
This device is formally known as the MASTIF or Multiple Axis Space Test Inertia Facility and is located in the Altitude Wind Tunnel. It was built at the Lewis Research Center, now John H. Glenn Research Center, and designed to train astronauts to regain control of a tumbling spacecraft. (NASA) #
Astronaut John Glenn Jr.'s balance mechanism (semi-circular-canals) is tested by running cool water into his ear and measuring effect on eye motions (nystagmus). (NASA) #
Astronauts Alan Shepard, John Glenn and Virgil I. Grissom, suited up in May, 1961. (AP Photo)#
The launch of the Mercury Atlas (MA-2), an unmanned suborbital Mercury capsule test on February 24, 1961. (NASA) #
The seven original Mercury astronauts participate in U.S. Air Force survival school at Stead Air Force Base in Nevada. Picture from left to right are L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., M. Scott Carpenter, John H. Glenn, Jr., Alan Shepard, Virgil I. Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., and Donald K. Slayton. Portions of their clothing have been fashioned from parachute material, and all have grown beards from their time in the wilderness. The purpose of this training was to prepare astronauts in the event of an emergency or faulty landing in a remote area. (NASA) #
The Mercury space capsule undergoing tests in Full Scale Wind Tunnel, January 1959. (NASA) #
A three-year-old chimpanzee named Ham sits in the biopack couch for the MR-2 suborbital test flight. On January 31, 1961, a Mercury-Redstone launch from Cape Canaveral carried the chimpanzee "Ham" over 640 kilometers down range in an arching trajectory that reached a peak of 254 kilometers above the Earth. The mission was successful and Ham performed his lever-pulling task well in response to the flashing light. NASA used chimpanzees and other primates to test the Mercury Capsule before launching the first American astronaut Alan Shepard in May 1961. (NASA) #
Mercury Capsule model undergoing tests in Spin Tunnel. (NASA) #
An Atlas missile carrying a one-and-a-half-pound squirrel monkey named Goliath in its nose cone veers off course after launch and showers burning wreckage back on Cape Canaveral, Nov. 10, 1961. (AP Photo/Jim Kerlin) #
The Atlas missile carrying a tiny monkey named Goliath in its nose cone, is shown as it exploded shortly after launch in Cape Canaveral, Nov. 10, 1961. The nose cone is at lower right. (AP Photo/Jim Kerlin) #
Wreckage from a failed test of an Atlas missile carrying a monkey named Goliath showers down on Cape Canaveral, Nov. 10, 1961. (AP Photo/Jim Kerlin) #
Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. looks into a Celestial Training Device (concentric globes) during training in the Aeromedical Laboratory at Cape Canaveral, Florida in February of 1962. (NASA) #
Astronaut John Glenn leaves Hanger S and walks to transfer van for ride to launch pad on Feb. 20, 1962 in Cape Canaveral. Glenn carries portable air conditioner attached to his suit. The air conditioner is detached before Glenn climbs into the Mercury capsule. (AP Photo) #
Astronaut John Glenn climbs into his Friendship 7 space capsule atop an Atlas rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Feb. 20, 1962, ready for the flight which made him the first American to orbit the earth. (AP Photo/NASA) #
The Atlas rocket and the newly-named Mercury spacecraft called Friendship 7 blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, February 20, 1962, carrying Col. John Glenn, Jr., as the first American to orbit the earth. (AP photo/NASA) #
Carrying Astronaut John Glenn, the Mercury spacecraft named Friendship 7, is launched into orbit by an Atlas LV-3B launch vehicle lifting off from Launch Complex 14 at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Feb. 20, 1962. (AP Photo) #
Astronaut John Glenn, observed weightless during NASA's first manned orbital Flight. (NASA) #
U.S. President John F. Kennedy, right, and Democratic congressional leaders watch the Atlas rocket and the newly-manned Mercury spacecraft blast off at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a television set in the White House in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 20, 1962. From left are, Rep. Hale Boggs, Louisiana; House Speaker John McCormack, Massachusetts, partially hidden; Rep. Carl Albert, Oklahoma; Sen. Hubert Humphrey, Minnesota; Vice President Lyndon Johnson and Kennedy. (AP Photo) #
Photo of the Earth taken by John Glenn with a 35-millimeter Ansco Autoset camera he had purchased just before liftoff, seen during Mercury Atlas 6 (Friendship 7) orbital flight on Feb. 20, 1962. (NASA) #
The Friendship 7 capsule, containing astronaut John Glenn, is recovered from the Atlantic by the destroyer U.S.S. Noa after a successful space flight, Feb. 20, 1962. The yellow coloring in the water is dye to make the capsule more visible to the recovery crew. (AP Photo) #
(Left) Col. John Glenn is helped from his Friendship 7 capsule by crewmen from the USS Noa in these Feb. 20, 1962 Polaroid photos taken by then Navy fireman David Gillespie of Cleveland. (Right) Col. John Glenn is assisted by an unidentified sailor aboard the USS Noa following his historic orbital flight in this Feb. 20, 1962 photo. The Noa made the recovery after the historic flight when the capsule landed 44 miles from the primary recovery vessel. (AP Photo/David A. Gillespie) #
John Glenn, center, is greeted by fellow astronauts following his orbital flight, Feb. 23, 1962 on Grand Turk Island, Turks and Caicos Islands. From left to right is: Scott Carpenter, Donald Slayton, Glenn, Virgil Grissom, Alan Shepard and Walter Schirra. The seventh member of the astronaut team, Leroy Cooper, was not available. (AP Photo/Pool) #
President John F. Kennedy, astronaut John Glenn and others take part in welcome ceremonies at Cape Canaveral in honor of Glenn's successful orbital mission February 23, 1962 (NASA) #
Astronaut John Glenn, his wife Annie, and Vice President Johnson attend a ticker tape parade on March 1, 1962 in New York City, given in Glenn's honor. (AP Photo) #
Astronaut John Glenn, Jr., talks with AP Correspondent Howard Benedict on anniversary of his space flight on Feb. 8, 1963. (AP Photo/Ed Kolenovsky) #

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