NASA Honors John Glenn's Historic 1962 Orbit

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It was 50 years ago Monday that NASA made the country's first space flight with astronaut John Glenn at the helm.

On February 20, 1962, the World War II Marine Corps combat pilot became the first American to enter orbit around Earth.

Glenn commanded the Atlas rocket known as "Friendship 7" in a Cold War space race with Russia. The Soviet Union made history after launching its first satellite and human into space five years earlier.

Glenn, now 90 years old, said the mission was a turning point for America's psyche.

"It's a big thing. I'm not making light of it ... such a key role," he said.

"Fifty years ago today, Friendship 7 was orbiting planet Earth, and that helped in a very big way, paved the way for America to become a space power, and to go to the moon, and to do the things that we're doing right now on the International Space Station," Commander Don Burbank added.

"And we hope this also can help set the stage for us down the road to do even greater things," Burbank continued.

Years after his historic mission, Glenn served as an Ohio senator.

He marked the 50th anniversary of his space flight with a series of events at Ohio State University.

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