John Glenn really wanted to be the first man in space. And from the moment he was selected as one of the Mercury astronauts, he worked diligently to stand out among his peers in the eyes of NASA's top decision makers. But in the end, it was pure luck that Glenn ended up being the first American to orbit the Earth on Feb. 20, 1962.
Glenn was the quintessential 1950s astronaut. He was a decorated Marine veteran of the Second World War and the Korean War. He was a celebrated pilot; on July 16, 1957, he broke the trans-America speed record in a Vought F8U Crusader jet aircraft when he flew from from Los Alamitos Naval Air Station in California to Floyd Bennett Field in New York in 3 hours 23 minutes 8.4 seconds, averaging 725.55 miles per hour.
He was charming, something the nation saw first hand when he appeared on "Name That Tune" alongside child star Eddie Hodges the same night the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. He was a Presbyterian. He was a family man, married to his childhood sweetheart Annie. And above all he was fiercely patriotic.