John Glenn, First American To Orbit Earth, Feted 50 Years After NASA's Friendship 7 Mission (PHOTOS)

Orbiting Earth seems ho-hum today, in an era when the ISS is ever-present in our skies and space tourism is a growth industry.

Things were different on Feb, 20, 1962. On that day, America cheered as John H. Glenn, Jr. became the first American to orbit the Earth. The former U.S. Marine pilot orbited not once but three times, spending a total of four hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds aboard Friendship 7, his cramped Mercury capsule, before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

The successful mission gave a strong push to the U.S. manned space program, setting the stage for the Apollo program that put a man on the moon. (It also helped launch Glenn's political career--he went on to serve in the U.S. Senate from 1974 to 1999.) But at the time it was credited for helping the U.S. get back into the space race with the Soviet Union, which had bested the West at putting a satellite into space (Sputnik, in Oct. 1957) as well as at putting a man in Earth orbit (cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in April, 1961).

Half a century later, Glenn--now living in Columbis, Ohio--is back in the limelight. And the 90-year-old retired astronaut-turned-politician now serves as a living reminder of American scientific and technological prowess. For a glimpse at Glenn's amazing mission, we've put together this fascinating slideshow.

Astronaut John Glenn