50 years ago, John Glenn was hurled from the planet to become the fifth human being and third American in outer space. More importantly, he was the first American to orbit the Earth.
You know the story: Glenn blasted off in a Mercury-Atlas ship—Friendship 7. Along the way, a faulty indicator gave everyone a scare, but ultimately, Glenn landed safely. The flight lasted just under five hours and covered three planetary orbits, which was enough to keep Glenn in the national consciousness for more than 50 years.
And that's all great, but stop and think about exactly what he and all the rest of those early astronauts were doing. They were, essentially, strapping themselves to incredible amounts of explosive fuel and shooting themselves into nothingness. Then, instead of orchestrating a safe and smooth landing (like the later shuttles), they'd just hope the NASA guys could math their way to a relatively comfortable crash. Totally nuts. Totally incredible.
For the 50th anniversary, NASA's put up an interactive site that has a bunch of facts and photos from the mission. It's a nice way to make you feel totally insignificant for however you wasted your day off.
Godspeed, John Glenn. [NASA]