Mercury 7Original 7 astronauts in Mercury space suits. Front row, left to right, are Walter M. Schirra Jr., Donald K. Slayton, John H. Glenn Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter. Back row, from the left, are Alan B. Shepard Jr., Virgil I. Grissom and L. Gordon Cooper Jr.
John Glenn Studying the Earth Before his FlightIn February 1962, Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. looks into a globe, technically the "Celestial Training Device" at the Aeromedical Laboratory at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth that same month.
John Glenn TrainingBefore his flight, Glenn spent hours in the Mercury Procedures Trainer at NASA before his space flight
John Glenn's Dress RehearsalRehearsing for his historic flight on February 20, 1962, Mercury program astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. works in a cramped training capsule preparing for his voyage through space.
Glenn climbs into the Friendship 7 capsule.Glenn climbs into the Friendship 7 capsule before his first space place 50 years ago.
Television Screen Depicting Friendship 7Residents anxiously watched their television and tracked the astronaut as John Glenn became the first man to orbit the Earth.
John Glenn Relaxing after Space FlightAstronaut John Glenn relaxes aboard the USS Noa after being recovered from the Atlantic Ocean near Grand Turk Island, where his capsule landed at the end of his historic Mercury flight. Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962 in his "Friendship 7" capsule.
Parade for a HeroPresident John F. Kennedy (left), John Glenn (center) and General Leighton I. Davis (right) ride together in the back seat during a parade in Cocoa Beach, Florida after Glenn piloted the country's first human orbital spaceflight.
NASA handout photo of John Glenn in 1998STS-95 crewmember, astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn poses for his official NASA photo taken April 14, 1998. Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth and returned to space in 1998 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Discover Taking OffAs the space shuttle discovery takes off with John Glenn,77, on board, he becomes the oldest person to head into space in 1998.
It was 50 years ago today that astronaut John Glenn left the earth in what would become on the most historic flights. Glenn's capsule, the Friendship 7, soared 162 miles from Cape Canaveral, Fla., into outer space.
The astronaut and later senator from Ohio became the first American to orbit the Earth on Feb. 20, 1962, circling the planet three times in five hours, reported the AP. The trip helped the United States solidify their place in the space race and surpass the Soviet Union's accomplishments.
Glenn was one of the top military pilots chosen to take part in a series of test flights in 1959. Six other men were also chosen and the men became known as the Mercury Seven. The only other surviving member is Scott Carpenter, who famously called out Godspeed John Glenn, moments before Friendship 7 propelled Glenn into space, reported the AP.
Glenn is still in awe of his dramatic feat and cannot believe it is already the 50th anniversary.
It's amazing to me to look back 50 years and think that it's been 50 years, Glenn told The Associated Press.
In order to commemorate the day, he and NASA administrate Charles Bolden spoke at a NASA forum in order to discuss the agency's role for the future and to encourage the advancement of science and technology. Glenn will also participate in a question-and-answer session with students from Ohio State in the evening with former astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
John Glenn is, quite simply, an extraordinary American patriot, Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee said in a statement. He is a man of boundless courage, limitless optimism and unswerving honor. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to celebrate his tremendous achievements and his important leadership at Ohio State.
In 1998, Glenn returned to space one final time to run a series of tests with the space shuttle Discovery. He was 77 and became the oldest person to fly to space.
Check out these rare photos from Glenn's original space flight and his 1998 return voyage.