John Glenn, 1st American in Orbit, Pushes for Manned Mars Missions

As the 50th anniversary of his historic spaceflight approaches, former NASA astronaut John Glenn is pushing for manned exploration of Mars and other farflung destinations.
On Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth when his Friendship 7 capsule zipped around our planet three times, then splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean. Glenn’s flight put the United States back on even footing with the Soviet Union, which had launched the first manned orbital flight in April 1961.
The U.S.-Soviet space race in the 1960s got much of the American public excited about space science and exploration. That enthusiasm has since flagged, but sending astronauts to the Red Planet could help rekindle it, Glenn said. “We’re accustomed to the new things and get used to them, and it’s hard to get excited about something new,” Glenn said today (Feb. 17) during a NASA event commemorating his orbital flight, citing the rapid march of technological innovation as a sort of numbing agent. “I’m sure if we establish bases someplace else, or if we make that flight to Mars, that’ll re-galvanize people again.”

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