As the era of the space shuttle comes to an end, today’s digital object takes us back to a milestone in the history of spaceflight. On February 20, 1962, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth in a space capsule, circling the planet three times before safely splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. The mission, part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Project Mercury, was called MA-6. The capsule piloted by Glenn was called Friendship 7. A documentary film by the same name captured the dramatic events of that eventful day and was released by NASA later the same year. Friendship 7, the film, showcased American achievement at the height of the space race with the Soviet Union, and remains a classic audiovisual document of the early days of human spaceflight.
In this photo, we see a young man astride a camera crane in the NASA mission control center filming a scene from Friendship 7 among the frenzied activities of flight controllers. The man behind the camera is Bruce Herschensohn, who also served as the film’s editor and score composer. In total, Herschensohn contributed to the production of nearly fifty films for various U.S. government agencies—but this was just one facet of a long, truly multifaceted career that traversed politics and academia.
Pepperdine University is now home to the Bruce Herschensohn Collection, which features the personal papers of this important politician, scholar, and filmmaker, including his notes, photographs, correspondence, media clippings, and other ephemera. The collection documents his professional life, including his work with the U.S. Information Agency during the 1960s, his roles in the Nixon and Reagan administrations, as a political commentator for television and radio, and as a senior fellow with Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy. You can easily search the collection for the photo above and all materials related to Friendship 7 and many other films of the period.