5 Fast Facts about the Life of John Glenn

John Glenn was an aviator, an astronaut, and a U.S. Senator. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Congress

Columbus, Ohio — On December 8, 2016, aviator, astronaut, and United States Senator John Glenn died at Ohio State University (OSU) hospital in Columbus, Ohio. He was 95.

In 2014, he’d undergone successful heart-valve replacement surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. And in late November, 2016, he’d been admitted to the James Cancer Hospital at OSU. Annie Glenn, his wife since 1943, had been with him at the hospital, along with their children and grandchildren.

Upon hearing of John Glenn’s death, Ohio governor John R. Kasich observed,

“John Glenn is, and always will be, Ohio’s ultimate hometown hero, and his passing today is an occasion for all of us to grieve.”

Kasich went on to say,

“As we bow our heads and share our grief with his beloved wife, Annie, we must also turn to the skies, to salute his remarkable journeys and his long years of service to our state and nation.”

Kasich  added,

“Though he soared deep into space and to the heights of Capitol Hill, his heart never strayed from his steadfast Ohio roots. Godspeed, John Glenn!”

Here are 5 Fast Facts to know about this American hero:

1He Was the First American to Orbit the Earth

Glenn in his Mercury 6 spacesuit in 1962. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Fred Jones / NASA

In 1962 Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, circling three times. Already an experienced fighter pilot and test pilot, in 1958 Glenn joined America’s new National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which had been recruiting military aviators as potential astronauts. Glenn was accepted into the program even though he was close to the required cutoff age of 40 and lacked a college degree, also required.

However, he passed numerous rigorous mental and physical tests, and he was one of 7 astronauts chosen from among 508 applicants. With NASA, he undertook the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft on February 20, 1962, and orbited the earth three times. He became the first American to circle the globe in a spacecraft, the third American in space, and the fifth human in space.

2He Was a Military Veteran and a Decorated War Hero

Glenn was raised in New Concord, Ohio. At the age of 8, he’d been given a ride in an open-cockpit airplane, and he became hooked on aviation. He studied engineering in his home town at Muskingum University. Meanwhile, in 1941, he completed the requirements for a private pilot’s license. At one time he’d hoped to become a medical doctor, but because of World War II, he did not complete his college senior year.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the twenty-year-old Glenn dropped out and enlisted, eventually becoming a United States Navy aviation cadet. During his training he took advantage of an offer to transfer to the U.S. Marine Corps. When his training was complete, he flew for Marine Squadron VMJ-353, piloting R4D transport planes, and later flew for Marine Squadron VMF-155 as an F4U Corsair fighter pilot. Glenn completed 59 missions in the South Pacific during World War II, and saw combat over the Marshall Islands.

During the Korean War, he was assigned to Marine Squadron VMF-311 and flew 63 combat missions in the new F9F Panther jet interceptor. He served a second combat tour in Korea as part of an exchange program with the 51st Fighter Wing of the Air Force, during which time he flew 27 missions in an F-86F. For his 149 combat missions in two wars and later military service, he received numerous honors, including the Distinguished Flying Cross on six occasions, and the Air Medal with eighteen award stars.

3He Served as a Test Pilot for the US Navy

A Vought Crusader (F-8E) from Marine Squadron VMF(AW)-212 Lancers in 1965. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Marines / Jimmy Labianco

When his combat career was over, Glenn was appointed to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. After graduating in 1954, he was an armament officer who flew to high altitudes to test the cannons and machine guns of military airplanes. Between 1956 and 1959, he served in the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics’ Fighter Design Branch, testing Navy and Marine Corps jet fighters.

He completed almost 9,000 hours of flying time, with about one-third of that being in jets. On July 16, 1957, Glenn participated in Project Bullet. This mission involved piloting the first supersonic transcontinental flight, flying from Alamitos, California, to Floyd Bennett Field, New York, in a Vought F8U-3P Crusader. The mission included three in-flight refuelings, and it lasted nearly three and a half hours. He received his fifth Distinguished Flying Cross for this flight.

4He Was a United States Senator

John Glenn, President John F. Kennedy, and Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov (on the right) at the White House on May 3, 1962. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Asif Siddiqi

Following his career as an aviator and astronaut, Glenn entered politics. He ran for the office of United States Senator from Ohio in the 1964 Democratic primary election but withdrew due to an injury. He was a close friend of members of the Kennedy family, and he was with Robert Kennedy when he was assassinated in Los Angeles, California, in 1968. Glenn was one of the pallbearers at Robert Kennedy’s funeral. He eventually ran for the Senate again and won, which began a career that lasted from 1974 to 1999. Glenn dedicated his life to public service.

After he retired from political office he devoted years to Ohio State University. In 2005 OSU established what came to be known as the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. “He was very proud of the Glenn College,” said Jack Kessler, a former OSU trustee and a longtime friend of John Glenn and his wife Annie.

Kessler continued,

“It’s a legacy that will carry on his mission toward good public policy”. According to Kessler, although Glenn held office as a Democrat, he wasn’t a part of partisan politics. “I never heard him say a bad thing about anyone,” Kessler recalled. “Some of his best friends were Republicans, and he could work with anyone”.

5At Age 77, He Become the Oldest Person Ever to Go into Space

John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth; he returned to space in 1998 aboard Space Shuttle flight STS-95. Credit: NASA / Robert Markowitz / Mark Sowa

Glenn kept a small Beechcraft airplane at an airport in Ohio for many years. He didn’t stop flying his own plane until he reached the age of 90. Prior to that, however, he returned to space in 1998 on Discovery’s STS-95 nine-day Space Shuttle mission. He was 77 at the time and the oldest-ever person to go into space.

The New York Times wrote that he “won his seat on the Shuttle flight by lobbying NASA for two years to fly as a human guinea pig for geriatric studies”. Glenn’s flight was later said to have provided valuable information about the effects of weightlessness and other characteristic of space travel on the same person at two different points in life, 36 years apart.

During one of his final appearances in public John Glenn, with his long-time wife Annie by his side, sat at the terminal of the Port Columbus airport that was being renamed in his honor as the John Glenn Columbus International Airport. At that time, Glenn, who had given up piloting his private plane five years earlier, remarked, “I miss it . . . I never got tired of flying”.

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