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.