Senator John Glenn, first American to orbit the earth, dies at 95

Senator John Glenn, first American to orbit the earth, dies at 95

Former Senator John Glenn, who was the first American to orbit the earth as a Mercury astronaut in the fledgling U.S. Space Program, died this week, at the age of 95. He’d been challenged by ill health following a stroke a few years ago.

His long and illustrious career spanned the military, the space program, and politics. His achievements as a Mercury astronaut captured the minds and hearts of people around the world, and earned him an important place in the history of space exploration.

Senator Glenn served for 24 years (4 terms) in the nation’s highest legislature as a democrat, following his career at NASA. He retired from politics in 1999. In an interesting reprisal of his earlier role, he flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery for one mission, in 1998, at the age of 77, with special permission from NASA, making him the oldest person to fly in space.

As a young man John Glenn served as a marine aviator. An expert military pilot, he flew in both World War II and Korea, logging a total of 149 combat missions, and earning numerous military decorations. After his combat role ended he served as a military test pilot, an extremely dangerous job that’s highly respected in the aerospace industry, and was ultimately selected for NASA’s Mercury program, which was a rapid response to the Soviet Union’s early success in Space exploration, following their launch of Sputnik.

Glenn’s successful 1962 orbital flight was fraught with drama. He spoke from space via radio describing the beauty of the view to countless listeners—-a first in the United States (Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had already completed the first ever orbital flight the previous year.) But there were concerns his capsule’s heat shield was severely damaged, which would have lead to grave consequences during reentry into the earth’s atmosphere. But the fears proved unfounded, and he returned safely to earth, and to new found fame as a record-breaking astronaut.

In the Senate, John Glenn was an advocate for education and basic scientific research. He believed strongly that strength in these key areas afforded the United States its edge on the world stage. He was, not surprisingly, a big advocate of NASA, and also strong on national defense. He once ran for President, but lost the democratic primary to Walter Mondale. He also lost the Vice Presidential role to Walter Mondale, when Jimmy Carter selected the other politician during his run for the White House.

Senator John Glenn is widely regarded as a genuine American Hero, who helped beat back the boundaries of ignorance and push the U.S. Space Program forward significantly. He assumed great physical risks throughout his career, for the advancement of human knowledge, and for greater good. He was also widelyh recognized as a personable, gentlemanly individual, with a keen, inquisitive mind.

Learn more about Senator John Glenn’s passing (NPR)

 

 

Photo: By NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA-GRC) – Downloaded from the NASA NiX Digital Image Collection: ID: C-1999-00429, Public Domain, Link

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