Project Mercury astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr. enters his Mercury ?Friendship 7? capsule before launch on February 20, 1962. At 9:47 a.m. (EST), his Atlas launch vehicle lifted him into orbit for his flight lasting 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds. Onboard Friendship 7, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, and the third American to fly in space. A faulty signal indicating a problem with the heat shield forced NASA mission controllers to cut the flight to only three orbits, but Glenn returned to Earth safely.