In 1958, John Glenn became one of seven original astronauts chosen by the National Air and Space Administration for the first American space missions. Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962. The mission was known as Friendship 7. In just under five hours, Glenn orbited the Earth three times. The Friendship 7 mission made Glenn a household name, not only in the United States but also in many other parts of the world. He received a ticker tape parade in New York City, as well as many other honors.
Most Americans viewed Friendship 7 as evidence that the United States was catching up to the Soviet Union in the space race. The Soviets had orbited the first artificial satellite in 1957, Sputnik, and had sent the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin. In the midst of the Cold War, Americans needed a success in space to improve morale.