Five minutes and four seconds into the flight of the Friendship 7, as John Glenn prepared to become the first American to orbit Earth, he radioed to NASA, his capsule turned and brought the Earth into sight. "Oh, that view is tremendous," he said.
In this post, I'll try to recreate some of Glenn's experience using imagery from our satellites and astronauts. It won't be a perfect recreation, but we'll have some chance of understanding what that first orbit must have been like.
Shortly after reaching orbit, his gave his first description of an earthly phenomenon from orbit. "This is Friendship Seven," he said, "Can see clear back; a big cloud pattern way back across towards the Cape. Beautiful sight." It might have looked something like this:
Meanwhile, back at Mission Control, things looked like this:
After a series of technical exchanges with Mission Control, Glenn returned to describing the scenery. "The horizon is a brilliant, a brilliant blue." We don't know exactly what he was looking at, but this might give you a sense of what he might have seen:
As he continued in orbit, he began to finish the journey across the Atlantic Ocean. "There, I have the mainland in sight at present time coming tip on the scope, and have Canaries in sight out through the window and picked them up on the scope just before I saw them out of the window," he said. "Over." 18 minutes into the mission, Glenn spotted the coast of Africa.