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John Glenn's Friendship 7: 50 Years of American Space Flight -- PICTURES

photo of Kenneth Chamberlain
February 20, 2012

Fifty years after former Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, became the first American to orbit the Earth, the American space program is somewhat undirected, some critics note. But in the years leading up to Glenn's flight in the Friendship 7 capsule, in which he circled the Earth three times, the goal of the program was very clear: to get Americans into space and, eventually, to land Americans on the moon.

Below are some photos preceding Glenn's historic voyage and after. The last slide is an edited version of NASA's coverage of the trip, available from the National Archives and Records Administration.

Former Sen. John Glenn, left, and Scott Carpenter, right, speak at the Kennedy Space Center, Friday, Feb. 17, 2012, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Three days before the 50th anniversary of his historic flight, the first American to orbit the Earth addressed employees at Kennedy Space Center. (AP Photo/Michael Brown)

Almost 50 years before on Feb. 22, 1962, Glenn and Carpenter pose during respite from de-briefing of Glenn by Project Mercury scientists and technicians. Carpenter was the backup pilot to Glenn who orbited around the earth three times in the Mercury Capsule.(AP Photo/Pool)

The original seven Mercury astronauts are shown during training at NASA Langley Research Center in March 1961 in their flight suits. From left are Lt. M. Scott Carpenter, Capt. Gordon Cooper, Col. John H. Glenn Jr., Capt. Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Lt. Comdr. Walter Schirra, Lt. Comdr. Alan B. Shepard Jr. and Capt. Donald K. "Deke" Slayton. (AP Photo/NASA)


Astronaut John Glenn looks up from signing his name in the Bible of an unidentified girl after services at the Riverside Presbyterian Church on Jan. 21, 1962, in Cape Canaveral. Glenn signed his name for youngsters after they attended Sunday services and met him outside the church. (AP Photo/ Murray L. Becker)

Glenn, who was a Marine lieutenant colonel and in a space flight suit, sits in a cradle inside a Mercury capsule procedures trainer as he shows how the first U.S. astronaut will ride through space. The demonstration was held at the NASA's Research Center, Langley Field, Va., Jan. 11, 1961. (AP Photo)

Glenn poses with his wife, Annie, outside their Arlington, Va., home on Feb. 3, 1962, during his first news conference. He spoke to the press days after spending more than five hours in the Mercury capsule atop a rocket at Cape Canaveral, Fla., only to have the shot postponed. Glenn said he was anxious to get ahead with is orbit of the Earth. (AP Photo/Bob Schutz)


Silver-suited astronaut Glenn, left, gestures as he talks before his launch with Mercury Launch director Walter Williams, right, and fellow astronaut Donald Slayton, center, in a hanger, Feb. 20, 1962, Cape Canaveral, Fla.(AP Photo/NASA)

Glenn climbs into the Friendship 7 space capsule atop an Atlas rocket at Cape Canaveral, Fla., for the flight which made him the first American to orbit the earth. (AP Photo/NASA)

Technicians use their hands to talk with Glenn just before they sealed the Mercury spacecraft.(AP Photo)


Glenn in the Friendship 7 Mercury Capsule is shown being launched from Cape Canavarel, Fla., on Feb. 20, 1962. (AP Photo)

The Friendship 7 capsule, containing Glenn, is recovered from the Atlantic by the destroyer U.S.S. Noa after a successful space flight. The yellow coloring in the water is dye to make the capsule more visible to the recovery crew. (AP Photo)

Glenn arrives aboard the carrier Randolph after flight around the Earth. (AP Photo/HB)


Reporters and well-wishers crowd around Annie Glenn, left, outside her home in Arlington, Va., after her husband, John, completed his three orbits of the earth in a Mercury Capsule. With Glenn were her daughter Carolyn, 14, and son David, 16, who is partly hidden by his mother. (AP Photo/Harvey Georges)

In this Feb. 23, 1962, file photo, Glenn, left, and President John F. Kennedy, center, inspect the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule which Glenn rode in orbit. At right is Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Kennedy presented the Distinguished Service Medal to Glenn at Cape Canaveral, Fla.(AP Photo)

Applause of senators and representatives brought this wave from Glenn as he appeared before them in Washington, Feb. 26, 1962. Standing behind him are Vice President Lyndon Johnson, left, and House Speaker John McCormack. (AP Photo)


Glenn and his wife, Annie, ride in the back of a limosine with Vice President Johnson during a parade in Glenn's honor on Feb. 26, 1962, in Washington, D.C.(AP Photo)

Glenn, left, looks over a flag crocheted for him by Mrs. Harry II. Haff, right, and presented at an outdoor rally, July 24, 1962, in Arlington. The rally was organized by Glenn's neighbors to say farewell to the Glenn family, which is moving to Houston.(AP Photo/Henry Burroughs)

Glenn, his wife, Annie, and Vice President Johnson at ticker tape parade on March 1, 1962, in New York given in John Glenn's honor for a successful space flight. (AP Photo)


A little more than a year after his successful flight, Glenn held a Washington news conference to announce he was not a candidate for political office, dispelling speculation that he might run for the Senate seat from Ohio. A decade later, he did, and served in the Senate until 1998.(AP Photo/Tom Fitzsimmons)

Before leaving the Senate, the 77-year-old Glenn returned to space on the shuttle, becoming the world's oldest astronaut. Pictured is Glenn, lower left, as he waved from a 1952 classic Phaeton convertible during a parade through Manhattan's "Canyon of Heroes" Monday, Nov. 16, 1998, in New York. Glenn, dressed in his blue flight suit and seated next to his wife, Annie, smiled at the people who lined the streets to honor him for becoming the oldest man ever in space.  (AP Photo/Suzanne Plunkett)

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