On February 20, 1962, when I was six going on seven, one of my childhood idols climbed into a small more or less sardine can sized spaceship known as Friendship 7, a Mercury capsule, sat in it for about 4 hours and finally blasted off to become the first American to orbit the earth. He was John H. Glenn. More at the source.
It was a thrill back then to think not only could man fly that high for that long but that he was an American and that we as a nation had caught up to and surpassed the Soviet Union. Although the U.S.A. had already sent two other men into space, Alan Shepard being the first in the so called Space Race, the USSR already had put a man,Yuri Gagarin, into orbit around the earth. Gagarin was the first human in space and also was the first to orbit the earth, doing so once on April 12, 1961. (Source.) Thus the Soviets beat out us by almost a year.
When Glenn orbited the globe, he went round three times, not just once as had Gagarin, and thus he greatly boosted the confidence & morale of Americans in that our men and our technology seemingly were superior to those of the USSR. They were scary times back during the Cold War and any advantage over the Soviet Union was a relief. That was because of the everyday threat to the USA posed during the Cold War by the Soviet and their nukes. Every parent & kid was well aware of that threat due to frequent required air raid drills during which we had to duck & cover both at home & in school. Both the relief due to the perceived advantage and the air raid drills though would have wound up being pointless had the Cold War ever gone hot and had even half of the atomic weapons ever been launched. Glenn's successful mission created a perception of superiority by the USA and was a big lift to the spirit of our citizens and others within the free world. Test launches aside - thank goodness that the biggest relief so far has been that the only major launches, by both sides, during the Cold War and later have been into space. I fear though that the Cold War is on all over again and I pray it will never go hot. Maybe we, as a species, can again find something out there in space to keep our minds on instead of chancing the Apocalypse here on earth.
Glenn, one of only 7 astronauts known as the Mercury 7, had an outstanding career in the U. S. Navy & Marine Corps, as an astronaut, as a businessman, as a test pilot and a career as a politician but I think he will always be remembered best as a courageous American astronaut who soared into space and then became the first to orbit the earth.
All the best,