'Godspeed,' happy anniversary, John Glenn!
February 17th, 2012
01:40 PM ET

'Godspeed,' happy anniversary, John Glenn!

NASA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first American in orbit.  

Back in 1959, NASA selected John Glenn as one of the original group of seven astronauts for the Mercury program. 

Three years later, he blasted off to the famous words, "Godspeed John Glenn," becoming the first American to orbit the Earth. To honor this landmark, we’re taking a look back at Glenn’s historic flights into space.

First American to circle the Earth

On February 20, 1962, Glenn made his famous journey around the planet aboard NASA's Friendship 7 spacecraft. During the nearly five-hour mission, he circled the globe three times. The mission wasn't perfect. A trouble indicator light warned that a clamp holding the spacecraft's heat shield had been released too early. Mission controllers feared that the heat shield was loose. The shield was meant to protect Glenn's spacecraft from burning up during re-entry. As a safety measure, a "retropack" that would normally have been jettisoned was allowed to stay on the spacecraft to hold the heat shield. It turned out that warning light was a false alarm. Glenn splashed down safely to much fanfare at home. Watch the incredible archival footage of this historic trip.

Oldest astronaut

Glenn made headlines again in 1998 when he rejoined NASA at age 77 to become the oldest person ever to go into space. Glenn’s trip aboard the shuttle Discovery helped NASA learn about the effects of space flight on older people. Watch him quip about breaking a hip in space.

American legend

Friday, at age 90, Glenn joined fellow “Mercury Seven” astronaut Scott Carpenter to reminisce about their adventures and reflect on the U.S. space program. Appropriately, it was Carpenter who announced those famous words a half century ago: "Godspeed John Glenn." Learn just how dangerous their missions were and what types of concerns that scientists had about Glenn’s health.

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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • On this Day • People in Orbit
February 17th, 2012
12:16 PM ET

Fire and brimstone!

The thing that powers all that is living on Earth gets more fascinating the more we learn about it.

Our sun.

Things we know:

–It's big (over 1 million times the size of the Earth)
–It's hot (about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit at its surface)

We also know what it's made out of, its mass, how far away it is, and - contrary to what my boy Aristotle used to think - we know it's the center of our solar system.

What we DON'T know is too long a list to mention here.

But the Solar Dynamics Observatory (aka SDO) is helping unravel some mysteries.

The Earth-orbiting satellite launched two years ago is providing some REALLY cool images of the solar surface.

In fact, NASA just released some of the coolest stuff I've seen.

I suppose part of the reason I'm diggin' on this so much is 'cause the swirls of fire look like TORNADOES.

Now there's no real atmospheric "weather" on the sun, so what you see here is totally different from what Dorothy had to deal with in Kansas.

Here, competing magnetic forces create the vortices where hot plasma swirls upward like a tornado or perhaps more accurately, a dust devil.

Keep in mind this video [which you can view above] is a time-lapse of 30 hours, so it has been sped up dramatically.

But consider the size and height of these hot plasma "tornadoes," just one of these is nearly large enough to engulf our entire planet Earth!

Now THAT'S some fire and brimstone baby!

Follow Rob Marciano on Twitter at @robmarcianoCNN and follow Light Years @CNNLightYears

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