John Glenn, who died Thursday at age 95, was lauded as a hero of the American space program on Feb. 20, 1962, when he became the nation’s first astronaut to orbit the earth. The accomplishment galvanized Americans and evened up the space race with the Soviets. In sometimes fanciful language, The Associated Press reported on the liftoff that took Glenn “towards his intended rendezvous with the stars.” The AP is republishing excerpts of its original coverage.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Feb. 20 (AP) — With a mighty shriek of its engines, an Atlas missile blasted off today to boost astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. into a journey around the Earth.
The huge missile spilled a torrent of flame over the launching pad. Ponderously the 125-ton monster rose slowly from the Earth to start Glenn towards his intended rendezvous with stars.
This first attempt to put an American astronaut into orbit came after a series of frustrating postponements dating back to Dec. 20. Technical troubles involving the Atlas guidance system, a faulty respiration sensor in Glenn’s helmet, a broken bolt on the capsule hatch cover and a fueling problem today delayed the launching past its intended 7:30 a.m. time.
As the rocket was ignited great billows of smoke poured out of the bottom of the tall Atlas, shot through with flashes of brilliant light. Jetting from the bottom was a long tongue of bright orange flame, looking much like a Fourth of July fireworks flare. Two small rocket engines, used for minor course corrections, blazed brightly on either side of the long pencil-like silver rocket.
In seconds a great roar barreled across the Cape and struck the ears of reporters and other observers nearly two miles away.
Less than two minutes after blastoff, Glenn reported all systems in the spaceship were “go.” He confirmed booster engine cutoff about two minutes after liftoff and was reading his instruments, reporting back on cabin-pressure and the gradual buildup of the pressures of gravity that were forcing him back into his contour seat.
Shortly before three minutes he reported the escape tower separation and the space ship was reported climbing well on its trajectory. Below, a high altitude observation plane traced a lazy “S” contrail to the south of the climbing missile.
As the rocket soared on toward orbit Glenn reported “I feel fine.” And that his view was tremendous.
Mercury Control Center, receiving a steady stream of reports, said that when the Atlas separated from the capsule about five minutes after launch, Glenn reported it was a “beautiful sight to see.”
At 9:56 a.m. Glenn was reported in contact with Mercury Tracking Station at Bermuda. Glenn reported from his space ship that he saw a very large cloud pattern near the Cape Canaveral area.
The space ship was tilted into its proper altitude the Mercury Control Center expected to confirm an orbit momentarily. The exact time of launch was 9:47 a.m. (EST).
Glenn’s voice piped into the public address system at the press site came over loud and clear as he said “Roger, the scope is retracting. Roger, the scope is retracted. The light is out.”
Mercury Control said that the booster engine cut off 503 miles east of Cape Canaveral at an altitude of 100 miles. Glenn’s speed at the time was 17,500 miles an hour and his orbit would range from a low point of 100 miles to a high point of 160 miles. It was estimated that it would take him 99 minutes to complete one orbit of the Earth, but Mercury Control said these figures were subject to reevaluation.
The tape recording of Glenn’s voice just after liftoff was played at the press center and the Mercury Control Center expected to confirm an orbit momentarily.
Associated Press news researcher Jennifer Farrar and AP Corporate Archives in New York contributed.
Original movie reel about John Glenn’s flight: http://bit.ly/2hl32Ad
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