John Glenn earned everlasting fame when he became the first American to orbit the Earth.
By: Legacy Staff
2 years ago
John Glenn, the NASA astronaut who was the first American to orbit the Earth and went on to serve in the U.S. Senate, has died at the age of 95, according to multiple news sources.
Born July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio, Glenn was a veteran of both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps, serving as a fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War. After Korea, he became a test pilot, and when the newly formed NASA began recruiting astronauts in 1958, Glenn applied and was selected as one of an elite corps of astronauts: the Mercury Seven, pioneers of U.S. space flight.
On Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn became the third American in space and the first to orbit the Earth when he lifted off in Friendship 7. His observations of the journey fascinated watchers at home, particularly his description of "little specks, brilliant specks, floating around outside the capsule." When he returned from the five-hour spaceflight after touching down in the Atlantic Ocean, he was honored as a national hero, meeting President John F. Kennedy and riding in a New York City ticker-tape parade.
“The fact that he was the first American to go into orbit was a really big accomplishment,” said Dr. Michael Neufeld, senior curator at the National Air and Space Museum, where the Friendship 7 capsule is now on display. “The Soviet space program had been scoring big propaganda firsts, and Glenn’s flight was a very important milestone on the way toward the United States beating the Soviets to the moon.”
Glenn left NASA in 1964 and retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 1965, aiming for a career in politics. His first campaign, running in 1964 for U.S. Senate as a Democrat to represent Ohio, was aborted early when he slipped and fell at home, sustaining a concussion. Glenn chose to withdraw from the race while he recovered. But when he ran again 10 years later, he was elected, and he went on to represent Ohio in the U.S. Senate until his retirement in 1999.
Glenn sat on committees including the Committee on Governmental Affairs and the Special Committee on Aging, and he was the chief author of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978, which President Jimmy Carter signed into law. He sought the Democratic nomination in the 1984 presidential election, polling in second place behind eventual nominee Walter Mondale.
As Glenn's political career drew to a close, he returned to space at age 77 in 1998, serving as a payload specialist on the space shuttle Discovery. Glenn lobbied hard to be included in the mission, citing the important work that could be done to research the effects of spaceflight and weightlessness on older adults.
In the years after his final space flight, Glenn founded the John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at The Ohio State University, now known as the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. He taught at the school as an adjunct professor.
Glenn was portrayed on the big screen in 1983's "The Right Stuff" by Ed Harris, and again in 2015 on TV's "The Astronaut Wives Club" by Sam Reid.
Glenn's many honors include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, and six Distinguished Flying Crosses. A number of schools and roads are named after him, as well as a U.S. Navy mobile landing platform ship. Before his death, he was the oldest living former U.S. senator.
“John Glenn is a true American hero in every sense of the word,” said author David Gerrold, one of the original "Star Trek" writers who crafted tales of space exploration during NASA’s formative 1960s era. “He inspired a generation of Americans to believe in ourselves and what we can accomplish when we commit to great challenges. What a remarkable life. Godspeed, John Glenn.”
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted; "Aren’t many Heroes left: WWII & Korean War Fighter Pilot. Marine Colonel. NASA Astronaut. Senator. Married 73 yrs. John Glenn RIP 1921-2016."
"The last of America's first astronauts has left us, but propelled by their example we know that our future here on Earth compels us to keep reaching for the heavens. On behalf of a grateful nation, Godspeed, John Glenn." — President Barack Obama
Glenn is survived by his wife of 73 years, Annie, and their children, John and Carolyn.
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