Friendship 7’s Journey with John Glenn, Christopher Kraft, Dr. Douglas, and Crew Chief Carpenter

Who Was on Friendship 7?

After completing his mission, Glenn and Friendship 7 returned to Cape Canaveral. Millions watched them in person and on television as they rode a U.S. Air Force cargo plane emblazoned with “Around the World With Friendship 7.”

During his first orbit, Glenn struggled to manually control the spacecraft’s attitude. The problem consumed much of the capsule’s fuel reserves.

John H. Glenn

John Glenn became a national hero on February 20, 1962, when he orbited the Earth three times in the Friendship 7 space capsule. A Marine pilot, Glenn was selected for Project Mercury astronaut training in 1959. He served as backup pilot for Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom, who made the first two U.S. suborbital flights.

The mission, which was delayed by two hours by weather, went well. After the Mercury-Atlas 6 separated from its booster rocket, Glenn commanded the spacecraft to a series of maneuvers that put it in the proper trajectory for an orbital flight.

Scientists had speculated about the effects of weightlessness, and Glenn’s mission proved that men could function in space. He completed a series of experiments and reported that he was in good shape, except for being slightly dehydrated. The spacecraft landed 800 miles (1,300 km) east of Bermuda at 2:43 p.m. EST, and was recovered by the destroyer USS Noa 21 minutes later.

Flight Director Christopher C. Kraft

Christopher Columbus “Chris” Kraft was born February 28, 1924, in Phoebus, Virginia. After graduating from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (now known as Virginia Tech), with a bachelor of science in aeronautical engineering, he took a job conducting flight tests on new military airplanes at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics—the predecessor agency to NASA.

He was drawn to this work because of his interest in test pilots and the g-force control problems they faced. Eventually, his work at the Langley lab led him to the space program.

In 1958, he joined the team developing Project Mercury and moved with the group to Houston. He established Mission Control—which he once compared to conducting an orchestra—and established how flights would be run as America’s space race with the Soviet Union heated up. He served as flight director on all six of the one-man Mercury and seven of the two-man Gemini missions.

Flight Surgeon Dr. William K. Douglas

The astronauts of the Mercury program were exposed to many physical stresses during their training, including acceleration, weightlessness, heat, vibration and noise. They had to be in good physical condition to endure these conditions. And they had to undergo a rigorous medical examination to make sure their bodies could cope with the demands of space flight. This was the responsibility of their aeromedical team led by Flight Surgeon Dr. William K. Douglas.

He was also a friend and confidant of the astronauts, and the seven of them helped establish the Mercury Seven Foundation in 1984, now known as the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

After Shepard and Grissom made suborbital flights, Glenn was chosen to make the first orbital flight, in Friendship 7. He launched on February 20, 1962. When it was time to return, the drogue parachute opened at 28,000 feet and the main one at 10,000. After a few minutes of freefall, Glenn flipped the landing bag release switch and heard the reassuring clunk of the fabric-and-resin ablative heat shield deploying behind him.

Crew Chief M. Scott Carpenter

On leave from NASA, Carpenter was participating in the Navy’s Man-in-the-Sea program as a member of the SEALAB II project off the coast of La Jolla. He was the team leader for two of the ten-man teams of Navy divers and civilians who lived in a seafloor habitat at a depth of 205 feet during the 45-day experiment.

The crew members took turns in the capsule during the mission, each spending six to seven hours in space. During the flight, Glenn spotted mysterious floating objects that he called “fireflies,” which he believed were particles of frozen water loosened from the outside surface of the spacecraft.

He also commanded the ship during a docking maneuver with Intrepid, and helped perform five onboard experiments per the flight plan. After his return to Earth, he was promoted to vice admiral and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He retired from the Navy in 1969 and involved himself in private business, including Sear Sciences, Inc.

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