WNY Connection To John Glenn's Flight

February 20, 2012 Updated Feb 20, 2012 at 10:37 PM EDT

By Ed Reilly

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February 20, 2012 Updated Feb 20, 2012 at 10:37 PM EDT

WHEATFIELD, NY (WKBW) - It was 50 years ago that astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth.

At the time, no one knew if Glenn, or his Mercury capsule would survive.

Both did and history recorded the event as a tremendous achievement.

Western New York technology played a key role in the success of the first manned Mercury mission.

Moog produced valves that were used in the Atlas rocket.

Small reaction control devices, also known as thrusters, were built by the Bell Aerospace Company in Wheatfield.

The hydrogen-peroxide powered thrusters allowed John Glenn to steer his spacecraft while in orbit.

Just before re-entry, mission control worried that the heat shield may have come loose.

According to Hugh Neeson, from the Ira G. Ross Aerospace Museum, the Bell-built thrusters were vital to John Glenn's safe recovery.

"Keeping control of the spacecraft during the early part of the re-entry became extremely critical, more critical than it would have been in ordinary circumstance. So I dare say the reaction control system on the first Mercury, was essential in helping him {John Glenn} make a safe re-entry and landing."