By John Uri, NASA Johnson Space Center, February 21, 2022
In February 1962, the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union was in full swing. Both nations had developed spacecraft to send humans into space and selected a group of pilots to fly those spacecraft.
The Soviets leaped ahead by placing the first man, Yuri A. Gagarin, in space on April 12, 1961, on a one-orbit flight around the Earth aboard his Vostok spaceship. The United States responded with two suborbital piloted Mercury missions, launched atop Redstone rockets.
The Soviets next kept a cosmonaut in space for a full day. On February 20, 1962, astronaut John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth during the three-orbit Mercury-Atlas 6 mission, aboard the spacecraft he named Friendship 7.