John Glenn, First American to Orbit the Earth, Turns 93

John Glenn—NASA
John Glenn—NASA

To say John Glenn was a pioneer would be something of an understatement. The Ohio native, who turns 93 on July 18, was one of the Mercury Seven, the first astronauts NASA ever sent into space. Glenn would not only be the first American to orbit the earth, but the fifth person ever in space. He is, like his fellow astronauts, a legend.

One of the most enduring elements of these era-defining space flights, though, are the photographs the astronauts took. Powerful, awe-inspiring images that would be among the first ever taken by humans in space. Suspended above the earth, Glenn and the others — ever the pragmatists — saw a use for these shots: mapping and research.

This picture of the Atlas Mountain range in Morocco was taken during the first orbit of the Friendship 7 flight on February 20, 1962. Since this was the first U.S. manned orbital flight, this was the first landmass picture taken following launch approximately 23 minutes earlier. On this flight I used a 35-mm hand-held camera. Probably the most significant thing about the photograph is that it pointed out to all of us the value pictures from space would have for mapping, weather analysis, etc., in work that has since been refined to a high degree with other equipment on other flights and other projects.

Astronaut John Glenn in a State of Weightlessness During Friends

Kennedy Space Center—NASA

Astronaut John Glenn photographed in space by an automatic sequence motion picture camera during his flight on "Friendship 7." Glenn was in a state of weightlessness traveling at 17,500 mph as these pictures were taken.

That’s what Glenn wrote in NASA’s 1968 book Exploring Space With a Camera, a beautiful tome in which the astronauts’ photographs are paired with short entries penned by the seven. A book that brought the images to the American public for the first time. Today, in celebration, TIME presents Glenn’s photograph of The Atlas Mountains, taken on the first ever orbit of Friendship 7.

Happy birthday, John Glenn. We salute you.

[MORE: John Glenn: See Rare and Classic Photos From an American Life]


Mia Tramz is an Associate Photo Editor for TIME.com. Follow her on Twitter @miatramz.


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