In 1959, 110 military test pilots were invited by the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to volunteer for the first manned space flight program. Following a gruelling series of physical and psychological tests, NASA selected seven people to be the first American Astronauts.
In January 1961 one of the Astronauts, Alan B. Shepard, was chosen to be the first American to travel into space. Although the flight was originally scheduled to take place in October 1960, delays meant that this was postponed several times. In the meantime the Russians managed to get one of their own Cosmonauts into space beating the Americans to put a man in space.
On 05th May 1961, Shepard finally launched in a one-person Mercury spacecraft which carried him 185 kilometres above the Earth becoming the first American in Space. The journey lasted only 15 minutes.
On 20th February 1962, John H. Glenn, Jr., became the first American to orbit the Earth. He completed three orbits in 4 hours 55 minutes.
Glenn became a U.S. Senator after he left NASA. However, he never lost his interest in space flight. In January 1998 NASA announced that Glenn was going back into Space on a special mission. John Glenn was 76 years old when he returned to space on board the space shuttle Discovery in October 1998.