John Glenn is one of the greatest Ohioans, if not Americans, of all time. Most famously known for being the first American to orbit the earth, he is also a former senator for Ohio, the oldest person ever in space, one of the few sitting congresspersons in space, and at the time of his death the oldest living former Senator.
John Glenn was born on July 18, 1921 in Cambridge Ohio. He was unable to finish college because he decided to join the military after the attack on Pearl Harbor. First in the Army Air corps, then as a United States Navy aviation cadet, then as a pilot in the Marines. It was in the the Marines he saw action in the Pacific Theater of WWII. Glenn stayed with the Marines until the middle of the Korean war at which time he transfered to the newly formed United States Air Force.
After the war John Glenn became a test pilot. As a test pilot he flew the first supersonic transcontinental flight. As a test pilot he was involved in the design and testing of spacecraft and simulators. In 1958 John Glenn joined another new organization. This time it was the National Air and Space Administration, also known as NASA. Glenn was selected as a member of The Mercury 7, and as one of the first astronauts to fly. His first and most famous flight would take place on February 20th, 1962. Aboard the Friendship 7 John Glenn made 3 orbits of the earth. He was the 3rd American in space, but the first to make a full orbit. As he ready to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere a problem with the crafts heat shields was detected. To prevent them from breaking up during reentry the retro rockets used to return Friendship 7 from orbit were kept in place. After the flight the problem was found to not with the shield, but with the system indicator.
After his flight John Glenn was one of the most famous people in the world. New York held a ticker tape parade for him. The world loved him. The problem with this was that he was so famous that NASA would not risk sending him back into space. This combined with the fact that he was already 42 lead him to announce his resignation on January 16, 1964. The next day he entered the race for Democratic Senator from the state of Ohio. Because of a slip and fall at his home he was forced to exit the race. He however was not far from politics over the next few years, remaining close to the Kennedy family. He was at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when R.F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Finally in 1974 he won the a seat on the US Senate. He would remain a senator for the next 24 years serving Ohio and the nation. As a senator he spent time working for many causes, but is probably best know for his unfortunate role in the Saving and Loan scandals of the 1980’s.
While senator Glenn started to lobby for NASA to allow him back into space. His reasoning was that it was the perfect opportunity to study the effects of old age in space, and that he was already experienced in spaceflight. NASA finally agreed and made John Glenn a member of STS-95. The launch of STS-95 on October 29,1998 made John Glenn at the age of 77 the oldest person to travel to space. He also became the second sitting senator to do so. The data collected on the mission was then compared to the data that was collected on Friendship 7. Upon his return he received another ticker tape parade, making him one of the last people to receive on, and one of the few to receive two.
On December 8th, 2016 Ohioan, Senator, and Astronaut John Glenn passed away at the age of 95. His final resting place is Arlington Cemetery near all of Americas other great heroes.
Over his life John Glenn did both good and bad. His trying to exclude women in NASA spaceflights in it’s early days, a policy which was already in place with the military pilot requirement, to the savings and loan scandal, showed him not to be perfect. His authoring of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978, his fights for the great lakes, his push for science, his willingness to risk his life to advance the knowledge of space, and many of his other works show that he was trying to work to make the earth a better place for those that come after him. For this his is one of Ohio’s and America’s greatest.
To learn more about this great man visit his museum in New Concord. The John and Annie Glenn Museum is open May – October (and is free for Ohio History Members.) The Friendship 7 capsule is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. The Space Shuttle Discovery is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum in Virgina.