Press Release
Press Release · Tuesday, February 20, 1962

Press Release
September 9,1998
National Archives Celebrates John Glenn's Space Flight with Special Document Display

" . . .My condition is good, but that was a real fireball, boy. I had great chunks of that retropack breaking off all the way through. . ."
(excerpt from NASA transcript of John Glenn’s first space flight.)

Washington, DC. . . In October, the National Archives and Records Administration will celebrate John Glenn’s second mission in space with a special document display in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building. The small exhibition includes four pages of the official NASA flight transcript of Glenn’s Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft on February 20, 1962.

The exhibition is free and open to the public and will be on display from October 19 through November 12, 1998. In December, the document will become part of the major exhibition, "American Originals," which flanks the Charters of Freedom in the Rotunda. The National Archives Building is located at Constitution Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets, NW.

John Glenn blasted into orbit on February 20, 1962, as part of a space race between the United States and the Soviet Union in which the Americans were lagging. The successful completion of Glenn’s mission -- he orbited the earth three times -- did much to restore American prestige worldwide. Encased in a bulky, pressurized suit, strapped into a seat, and crammed into a tiny capsule, Glenn put his life at risk as he traveled at 17,500 miles per hour, 160 miles above earth.

After Glenn began his second orbit, Mission Control received a signal that the heat shield, designed to prevent the capsule from burning up during reentry, was loose. Although it could have been a faulty signal, Mission Control took no chances. Normally, the retropacket package would be jettisoned after the rockets were fired to slow the capsule for reentry. In this case, however, Glenn was ordered to retain the retropack to hold the heat shield in place. With great skill, courage, and grace, Glenn piloted the spacecraft manually as the autopilot function failed, and Mission Control wondered whether the capsule’s life-saving heat shield would hold while reentering the atmosphere. Glenn returned to earth after five hours, suffering no injury more severe than scraped knuckles, sustained as he prepared to exit the capsule after a safe splashdown.

This fall, as the 77-year-old pioneer returns to space to study the parallels between spaceflight and the aging process, the National Archives is pleased to sponsor the special document display and a series of free public programs relating to space exploration. For further information relating to these and other programs, the public may call the public events line at (202) 501-5000. The hearing impaired should call TDD (202) 501-5404 for information.

For additional PRESS information, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (301) 837-1700 or by e-mail.


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