On This Day: Astronaut John Glenn becomes first American to orbit Earth

In a mission Nasa said was 'one of the most important flights in American history', Glenn was launched into space on February 20, 1962.

February 20, 1962: The U.S. made space history on this day 51 years ago when astronaut John Glenn became the first American in orbit after circling the Earth three times.

In a mission Nasa said was 'one of the most important flights in American history', Glenn was launched into space on February 20, 1962.

Nasa wanted to observe his reactions before returning him home to Earth safely.

After three years of training, Glenn rocketed into space on board the Mercury capsule Friendship 7.

<p>John Glenn was a national hero after his successful space orbit (AP/PA).</p>The Pathe video above details how Glenn traveled at 17,545 mph before going into orbit.

During his flight he suffered technical problems after his first orbit, and had to abandon the automatic control system, using the manual electrical fly-by-wire system instead.

His flight lasted four minutes shy of five hours before he descended and landed in waters off Puerto Rico.

Afterwards, President Kennedy awarded Glenn the Space Congressional Medal of Honor, telling him: "We are proud of you, you did a wonderful job."

The Queen also offered her congratulations, and Glenn returned home a national hero and a symbol of American ambition, even earning himself a ticker tape parade in New York City.

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