July 18, 2014 4:00 AM EDT

To say John Glenn was a pioneer would be something of an understatement. The Ohio native, who turns 93 on July 18, was one of the Mercury Seven, the first astronauts NASA ever sent into space. Glenn would not only be the first American to orbit the earth, but the fifth person ever in space. He is, like his fellow astronauts, a legend.

One of the most enduring elements of these era-defining space flights, though, are the photographs the astronauts took. Powerful, awe-inspiring images that would be among the first ever taken by humans in space. Suspended above the earth, Glenn and the others — ever the pragmatists — saw a use for these shots: mapping and research.

Ancient, giant sperm have been found in a remote corner of Australia. The source? Tiny, 17-million-year-old fossilized shrimp. Scientists believe that the giant sperm are longer than the entire body of the fossilized freshwater crustaceans they come from. And they're the oldest fossilized sperm ever discovered, according to researchers at the University of New South Wales Australia. The fossils were discovered in what was once an ancient cave where the tiny shrimp thrived in pools, continually bombarded by the droppings of thousands of bats, researchers said. The bat doo-doo added phosphorous to the water in the cave, allowing the soft sperm tissue to mineralize and preserve. At 1.3 millimeters long, the shrimp sperm are many times the length of human sperm. (Human sperm are less than 0.1 millimeters long). The sperm come from a remote region in northwestern Australia that is already known for yielding extraordinary remains, including giant, toothed platypuses and flesh-eating kangaroos. Yep, flesh-eating kangaroos.    
Kennedy Space Center—NASA

That’s what Glenn wrote in NASA’s 1968 book Exploring Space With a Camera, a beautiful tome in which the astronauts’ photographs are paired with short entries penned by the seven. A book that brought the images to the American public for the first time. Today, in celebration, TIME presents Glenn’s photograph of The Atlas Mountains, taken on the first ever orbit of Friendship 7.

Happy birthday, John Glenn. We salute you.

[MORE: John Glenn: See Rare and Classic Photos From an American Life]


Mia Tramz is an Associate Photo Editor for TIME.com. Follow her on Twitter @miatramz.


Write to Mia Tramz at mia.tramz@time.com.

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