Collection Item Summary:
This hatch was part of the historic Friendship 7 capsule in which, on February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. In the original Mercury design, the hatch was bolted on by launch pad technicians. Without outside assistance, the astronaut could exit only by crawling out the capsule's neck after landing. The astronauts pushed through a redesign to incorporate a window over the pilot's head and a hatch that could be ejected with explosive bolts, so that they might egress quickly in an emergency. This version of the spacecraft first flew on the second manned suborbital mission in July 1961, but the hatch blew off accidentally after splashdown and "Gus" Grissom's capsule sank. Glenn thus decided not to eject the hatch until after Friendship 7 was lifted onto the deck of the destroyer Noa.
NASA transferred Friendship 7 to the Smithsonian Institution in 1962.