WA News

The moment Perth became the 'City of Lights'

It was the moment Perth became ‘the city of lights’, putting on a bright display for astronaut John Glenn as he became the first American to orbit the earth.

And ahead of the 50th anniversary of the February 20, 1962 orbit Mr Glenn has thanked the thousands who left their lights on or rushed out to their backyards to wave torches into the night sky.

Muchea astronaut Gordon Cooper speaks with John Glenn as he passes overhead.
Muchea astronaut Gordon Cooper speaks with John Glenn as he passes overhead. 

Mr Glenn, now a US senator, said he can still recall the moment he saw Perth light up below him as he passed over the city in the Friendship 7 spacecraft.

“It just seems like it was yesterday to me. I remember that view very vividly,” he said in a video message.

A poster celebrating America's first man to orbit the earth.
A poster celebrating America's first man to orbit the earth. 

“I know the people of Perth have great memories of those days, as do I.”

“To those of you that participated in that great time back in 1962 and 1998, thank you very much and we have great memories of Perth.”


Senator Glenn passed over the city again, 36 years later on a shuttle flight, when the city’s lights were turned on again.

“This time I could see the ground again, and it looked to me as though the lights of Perth and Rockingham were even more vivid than they had been back 36 years before in 1962, so it was a great view and once again we were happy to be able to say hello to the people of Perth on that dark side of the earth as I was going around,” he said.

Muchea tracking station.
Muchea tracking station. 

The early space exploration mission set the stage for the Gemini and Apollo programs, which culminated in NASA landing men on the moon.

The mission was also significant for WA’s Muchea tracking station, as it marked the first time an Australian technician spoke to a space traveller.

Several of the technicians who worked at the station have helped compile information and photographs for a display to mark the anniversary.

The display will be on show at a 50th anniversary celebration on Monday at the Northbridge Piazza from 6pm.

The free outdoor event will include a live audio and video link to the International Space Station as it orbits the earth.