February 20, 1962. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on this date. He made three turns around the planet before returning safely in his space capsule, which was called Friendship 7. He followed two Russian cosmonauts in making this early orbit of our planet: Yuri Gagarin ( April 1961) and Gherman Titov (August 1961).
While Glenn was in orbit, NASA controllers received an indication that the heat shield on his craft had come loose. They instructed Glenn not to jettison the rockets underneath the heat shield during re-entry, because the rockets might be able to hold the shield in place. Fortunately, the indication turned out to be a false alarm.
Glenn returned to space at age 77 aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1998, making him the oldest person to fly in space. His mission’s primary scientific aim at that time was to study the effects of spaceflight on seniors.
Bottom line: John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth on February 20, 1962. His space capsule was called Friendship 7.