Science Essay on John Glenn’s Space Orbital Flight: 2nd Place – Benjamin Schreier, Upper Allen Elementary School

Last summer my mom took me and my brother to the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Ohio. While we were there we explored the NASA Glenn Visitor Center. We saw a replica of the Friendship 7 Mercury Space Capsule that took John Glenn into space when he orbited the Earth on February 20, 1962. We learned about the challenges and dangers of traveling to space and returning to Earth. We learned about how astronauts live in space including what they wear, what they eat, how they go to the bathroom, and how they sleep in zero gravity conditions. We even tried Astronaut Ice Cream! It was a fun trip and it got me interested in space exploration and astronauts, including John Glenn.

John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth. Two other astronauts, Alan B. Shepard, Jr., and Virgil I. Grissom, had been on suborbital flights in 1961. However, their flights did not travel around the Earth and that’s why they were called suborbital flights (Kramer 5).

The Redstone rocket that launched Shepard and Grissom into space was not powerful enough to get a space capsule into orbit. The Atlas rocket was larger and more powerful. At 9:47 a.m. on February 20, 1962 the Atlas rocket lifted off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida with 360,000 pounds of thrust (Kramer 8). About two minutes later two of the three booster engines shut off and dropped away from the rocket as planned. The Atlas sustainer engine then propelled the Mercury capsule into orbital velocity, about 17,500 miles per hour. When the capsule reached orbital altitude the third engine cut off and dropped away as well (

John Glenn made three orbits around the earth in about 5 hours. There were eighteen tracking stations set up around the world to monitor Glenn’s flight. Some of them were on land, but others were on U.S. Navy vessels in the ocean. Each tracking station had the ability to communicate with Mission Control and with John Glenn in the capsule. NASA wanted to know if the weightlessness of space would make an astronaut feel dizzy so they asked John Glenn to move his head around. The tests did not cause John Glenn to get dizzy. NASA also wanted to know if astronauts would be able to eat in space. Glenn lifted the visor on his helmet and squeezed applesauce from a tube into his mouth (Kramer 26-27).

Once John Glenn completed the tests and the third orbit around the Earth it was time to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Three small rockets were fired to slow the capsule down. After the capsule re-entered Earth’s atmosphere a brake parachute opened at 21,000 feet and then the main chute opened at 10,000 feet to slow the capsule down even more for its splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. Rescuers aboard the Navy destroyer ship U.S.S. Noa retrieved John Glenn and the capsule (Kramer 33). The mission was a success!


  • Kramer, Barbara. John Glenn: A Space Biography. Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 1998. Print.
  • “Mercury-Atlas 6.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2015.
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