1962-02-20 USA Mercury Atlas MA-6 (Friendship 7)

Photo: John Glenn selected as pilot for the first US orbital mission on November 29, 1961. Scott Carpenter was the backup pilot.
Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) was the first attempt by the US to place an astronaut into orbit, as part of Project Mercury. Launched on February 20, 1962, it made three earth orbits and was piloted by astronaut John Glenn, who became the first American to orbit the Earth.

Photo: Walter Schirra, chief flight controller at Point Arguello tracking station for orbital flight of John Glenn, is pictured during a simulated flight test.
Photo: Photographers at Cocoa Beach, Florida, a popular place to watch a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. The launch date was first announced as January 16, 1962, then postponed to January 23 because of problems with the Atlas rocket fuel tanks. After multiple postpones, February 20, 1962 was chosen as the favorable day to attempt a launch.
Photo: The scene at the MA-6 launch pad in the early hours of February 20, 1962.
Photo: Launch of MA-6 on February 20, 1962.
Swanson rubber stamp cachet on plain cover. Signed by Wernher von Braun, John Glenn and Hermann Oberth, postmarked at 10AM to coincide with the launch time 9:47AM.
Top: Mercury-Atlas 6 (Friendship 7) Launch Cover. A "Space Craft" illustrated cachet cover postmarked at Patrick Air Force Base, February 20, 1962, the launch day of MA-6 mission (first US manned orbital flight).
Bottom: an unusual Space Craft illustrated cachet cover with missing purple color.
A "Space Craft" illustrated cachet cover with a Port Canaveral cancellation dated February 20, 1962, the launch day of MA-6 mission. Signed by John Glenn.
A cover with a Cocoa Beach postmark, February 20, 1962, the launch day of MA-6 mission.
In the early days of the US space program there were only two postmarks available for space covers - "Patrick Air Force Base Florida" and "Port Canaveral". Majority of the early "Space Craft" covers were cancelled with the "Patrick Air Force Base" postmark, whereas a limited number of covers were cancelled at the Port Canaveral post office.

Photo: The orbital space flight path of John Glenn on February 20, 1962.
Photo: John Glenn inside the Mercury capsule. Photo was taken by onboard camera during the flight's re-entry.
Photo: Alan Shepard (right), the Mercury Control capsule communicator (CAPCOM) with John Glenn.
"Friendship 7" was launched into space by an Atlas LV-3B rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. After 4 hours and 56 minutes in flight the space capsule re-entered the Earth's atmosphere, splashed down in the Atlantic ocean and was recovered by the USS NOA DD-841.

Photo: Crewmen on USS NOA holding a banner to welcome John Glenn aboard.
USS NOA recovery ship's cover with a  February 20, 1962 postmark. Although the stamp used is not a "Project Mercury" stamp, a study by Dr Ross J. Smith explained the postmark could be backdated as well.
Photo: Recovery of John Glenn and his capsule by USS NOA.
John Glenn was transferred by helicopter from the USS Noa to the USS Randolph, and then flown to Grand Turk for his debriefing and medical check up as planned. The capsule joined him later when it was delivered to Grand Turk by ship.

Photo: John Glenn aboard USS Randolph after recovered by USS NOA.
1962 John Glenn signed USS Randolph Captain's cover, postmarked February 20, 1962. John Glenn signed on the glued cachet of USS. Randolph CVS-15 Space Capsule Recovery Ship. Also signed by the Commanding Officer, Captain Max Berns. - RegencyStamps
Photo: John Glenn and John A. Powers at Grand Turk Island.
Cover postmarked at Grand Turk Island, February 20, 1962. Signed by Joe Frasketi who produced and serviced this cover. 
Photo: John Glenn greeted by fellow astronauts at Grand Turk Island on February 22, 1962.
The Post Office released the sale of "Project Mercury" stamp only after John Glenn's safe return from his orbital flight. It was prepared in complete secrecy in case the mission did not succeed.

Photo: A post office staff released the sale of "Project Mercury" stamp at 3:30pm, February 20, 1962, after the successful splashdown of Glenn's Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7.
Plate number block of four USA 4¢ Project Mercury stamp issue signed in the selvage in blue ink by the stamp designer, Charles R. Chickering.
Plate number block of four USA 4¢ Project Mercury stamps signed in the selvage in black ink by John Glenn.
Wernher Von Braun autographed plate block. Plate number block of four USA 4¢ Project Mercury stamps signed in the selvage in blue by famed rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. - RegencyStamps
USS NOA recovery ship's cover, signed by John Glenn, with a backdated February 20, 1962 postmark applied on a Project Mercury stamp.
USS Randolph recovery ship's cover with a backdated February 20, 1962 postmark applied on a Project Mercury stamp.
Only cover with the "Cape Canaveral" postmark has "First Day of Issue" in its cancel. However, when this stamp was released, there was no post office named "Cape Canaveral" - Cape Canaveral was a geographical name for a point of land where the launch took place. The post offices in the area were called "Port Canaveral" from 1954-1962, and later called "Cape Canaveral".

A plain cover with Project Mercury stamp postmarked at Cape Canaveral February 20, 1962, 3:30PM (first day of issue). Signed by John Glenn and Wernher von Braun.
Space Craft illustrated cachet cover with Project Mercury stamp postmarked at Cape Canaveral February 20, 1962, 3:30PM (first day of issue), the time when the stamp was officially released for sale. Signed by John Glenn.
Hand painted cachet of John Glenn by Chris Henderson.
Hand painted cachet of Enos by Chris Henderson.
Photo: "Astronaut Alan Shepard (right) stood with his hand on the space capsule that took John Glenn on his triple orbit of the earth. The capsule was returned to the Cape Canaveral missile test center from which it was launched. AP Wirephoto, February 22, 1962."
USS NOA recovery ship's cover postmarked on return to port, Feb 23, 1962.
Photo: Bags of mail arrived at John Glenn's desk on his first visit to Space Task Group headquarters since his orbital flight on Feb 20, 1962.