John Glenn - History

John Glenn - History


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John Glenn

1921-2016

American Astronaut, Politician

John Glenn served as a Marine Corps pilot in the Pacific during World War II, flying 59 combat missions. He also flew in the Korean War. In 1954, he became a certified test pilot, flying the first coast-to-coast supersonic mission in 1957.

Two years later, he became one of the original Gemini astronauts. On February 20, 1962, he became the first American to orbit the earth. He resigned from the Marine Corps in 1965, and in 1972 was elected as a Senator from Ohio, going on to three subsequent terms.

In 1998 at the age of 77, Glenn made history by returnng to space as a member of a shuttle crew, returning to Earth amid tremendous public acclaim.


John H. Glenn Jr.


Astronaut John Glenn in his space suit sitting outside the Friendship 7 space capsule. As pilot of the Friendship 7, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., was born in Cambridge, Ohio, on July 18, 1921. While Glenn was still an infant, the family moved to nearby New Concord, Ohio, where his father owned his own plumbing business and car dealership. After attending the local public schools, Glenn earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering from Muskingum College, also located in New Concord.

While Glenn was attending college, the United States entered World War II. In 1942, Glenn became part of the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. After finishing his training, he piloted planes in the Pacific theater of the war. In the final year of the war, Glenn also became a test pilot. By the end of the war, he had reached the rank of captain. Glenn continued to serve in the military in the years following the war, once again flying combat missions during the Korean War.

In 1958, Glenn became one of seven original astronauts chosen by the National Air and Space Administration for the first American space missions. Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962. The mission was known as Friendship 7. In just under five hours, Glenn orbited the Earth three times. The Friendship 7 mission made Glenn a household name, not only in the United States but also in many other parts of the world. He received a ticker tape parade in New York City, as well as many other honors. Glenn continued to work for NASA until early 1964, and he retired from the Marine Corps the following year. He then entered the business world, serving as an executive for Royal Crown Cola for the remainder of the decade and into the early 1970s.

In the 1970s, Glenn entered the political arena as a member of the Democratic Party. He ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. Senate seat in the Democratic primary against Howard Metzenbaum in 1970. In 1974, Glenn was more successful. He won the election and ultimately served in the Senate until retiring in 1999. He also tried unsuccessfully to obtain the Democratic Party's nomination for President in the 1984 election. As a senator, Glenn was the chairman of the Committee on Government Affairs from 1978 to 1995, and he also served on the Foreign Relations Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the Special Committee on Aging.

On October 29, 1998, at the age of 77 years, Glenn became the oldest person to travel in space. He served as a member of the crew of Space Shuttle Discovery STS-95. Glenn focused on researching the effects of the space environment on aging. In the years after, Glenn continued to be supportive of both NASA and the American space program. After the space shuttle flight, NASA renamed the Lewis Research Center, located in Cleveland, Ohio, the NASA John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field.

John Glenn passed away on December 8, 2016, and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.


Anna Margaret Castor was born on February 17, 1920, in Columbus, Ohio, to Homer and Margaret (Alley) Castor. [1] [2] Her father was a dentist. [3] In 1923, the Castor family moved to New Concord, Ohio. [1]

Castor met John Glenn at a very young age when her parents became involved in the same community organizations as Glenn's parents. [4] The families developed a friendship which allowed Castor and Glenn to remain close as they grew up. [4] The pair became high school sweethearts and continued dating through college. [4] Castor attended Muskingum College where she majored in music with a minor in secretarial skills and physical education. [4] Castor was an active member of the swim team, volleyball team, and tennis team. [4] She graduated in 1942. [1] Even though she received an offer for a pipe organ scholarship from the Juilliard School, Castor declined the offer, [5] choosing instead to stay in Ohio with Glenn. Castor and Glenn were married on April 6, 1943. [1] They had two children, David, born in 1945, and Lyn, born in 1947. [6]

During the early years of her marriage to John Glenn, Annie Glenn worked as an organist in various churches and taught trombone lessons. [4]

Influence during the Space Race Edit

Throughout the middle of the twentieth century, the Cold War tensions between the United States of America and the Soviet Union heightened. [7] In an effort to boost American citizens' confidence in their government, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower decided to become involved in the Space Race and launch Project Mercury. [7] Seven young men were chosen for this space mission. These all-American astronauts were regarded as wholesome heroes and their wives were the picture of domestic patriotism. [8] Annie Glenn was one of the wives of the Mercury 7 astronauts. These women "rocketed to fame" [9] to become celebrities.

In her book The Astronaut Wives Club [10] (which later became a television miniseries), Lily Koppel relates that Glenn and the other six wives formed a tight-knit support group informally called the "Astronaut Wives Club," which she cites as influential in shaping American identity, as Americans found their values of family, patriotism, and consumerism embodied in Glenn. Koppel states that American women turned to Glenn, who had been elevated in the media because of her all-American family, as a role model on how to maintain a happy home, and also an indirect propagator of the American value of consumption. The appearance of the Astronaut Wives in the media was marketed to average American housewives. For example, when the wives wore a shade of "responsible pink" lipstick to a Life photoshoot, the published photographs were retouched to show the wives wearing "patriotic red" lipstick instead. The lip color was changed to represent a new, vibrant period in American history. After the magazine was published, red lipstick became a fad. Similarly, while Mercury 7 astronauts were given sporty Corvettes to drive, the wives were strongly encouraged to keep their family-friendly station wagons, which meant that the average American housewives who were following the Astronaut Wives' example also bought station wagons. As a result of Glenn and the other members of the Astronaut Wives Club, women across the U.S. were inspired to be brave and of course, to buy the same consumer goods Glenn and the other wives had in their homes. [10]

Speech impairment Edit

Like her father, Annie Glenn experienced a speech stutter throughout her life. [1] As a child, Glenn did not feel hindered by her stutter she happily participated in activities such as softball, girl scouts, school dances, and choir. [4] It was not until sixth grade that she first realized her speech impairment. [4] It was determined that her stutter was present in eighty-five percent of her verbal utterances. [11] Despite her difficulty speaking, she was able to create and maintain close relationships. [4] After graduating college, Glenn wanted to get a job in a different town but because of her disability, her parents were worried about her living independently. [4] However, Glenn found ways to effectively communicate without speaking out loud. For example, before shopping, she would write down exactly what she was looking for and then show the note to the sales clerk when she needed help. [4]

At the age of 53, Glenn discovered and attended a three-week treatment course at Hollins Communications Research Institute in Roanoke, Virginia, to help with her dysfluency. [11] After attending the treatment course, her speech was greatly improved however, she did not consider herself "cured" of stuttering. [1] Glenn was finally able to confidently vocally interact with others. [12] When her husband began campaigning for the Senate, she was able to support him by giving speeches at public events and at rallies. [1] Glenn used her newfound voice to bring attention to the disabled who she knew had been overlooked so often. [13]

Later, Glenn became an adjunct professor with Ohio State's Speech Pathology Department. [6]

In 1983, Glenn received the first national award of the American Speech and Hearing Association for her meritorious service to those with communicative disorders. [1] In 1987, the National Association for Hearing and Speech Action awarded the first annual Annie Glenn Award for achieving distinction despite a communication disorder. [1] Glenn presented the award to James Earl Jones as its first recipient. [1] She was inducted into the National Stuttering Association Hall of Fame in 2004. [14] In 2015, The Ohio State University renamed 17th Avenue (on its campus) to Annie and John Glenn Avenue. [15]

In 2009, the Ohio State University awarded her an honorary Doctorate of Public Service to recognize her work on behalf of children and others. [6] The department awards the "Annie Glenn Leadership Award" annually to a person that has displayed innovative and inspirational work in speech/language pathology. [15]

Activities and involvements Edit

Organizations in which she was involved include:

  • Delta Gamma Theta Sorority (Muskingum College) [16]
  • The Ohio Board of Child Abuse [17]
  • The Board of Columbus (Ohio) Speech and Hearing Center [6]
  • The Society of Sponsors [18]
  • The Board of Trustees of Muskingum College[19]
  • The Advisory Panel of the Central Ohio Speech and Hearing Association [16]
  • The Advisory Board for the National Center for Survivors of Childhood Abuse [16]
  • The Board for the National First Ladies' Library[18]
  • The National Deafness and other Communication Disorders Advisory Council of the National Institutes of Health[20]

At the time of her husband's death in December 2016, Annie and John Glenn had been married for 73 years and eight months. During the course of their marriage, the couple had two children—John David, born in 1945, and Carolyn Ann, born in 1947—and two grandchildren. [1]

Glenn turned 100 in February 2020. [21] Three months later, on May 19, 2020, she died at a nursing home in Saint Paul, Minnesota, from complications of COVID-19 during the COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota. [22] [23] [24]

Glenn was played by Mary Jo Deschanel in the 1983 film The Right Stuff. [25] The film highlighted her stutter, particularly in a scene involving U.S. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. [25] In a 2015 interview, she and John Glenn indicated that, although they liked the Tom Wolfe book, they did not care for the movie adaptation of The Right Stuff. [26]

In the 2015 ABC-TV series The Astronaut Wives Club, she is portrayed by Azure Parsons [27] and in the 2020 Disney+ series The Right Stuff by Nora Zehetner. [28]


John Glenn's Importance to the U.S. Space Program &mdash and to the Country Itself

John Glenn died Thursday at the age of 95. One of the founding figures of the U.S. space program and also a long-serving U.S. Senator, Glenn had a profoundly historic and uniquely American life. Let’s take a closer look.

Glenn was born in Cambridge, Ohio, in 1921. He went to elementary and high school in New Concord, Ohio, and attended Muskingum College in the same town, though he didn’t complete his senior year at the school, opting to drop out at 20 and enlist in the U.S. Air Corps after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, according to the New York Times. (The school granted him an honorary degree in 1962.)

Glenn became a U.S. Marine fighter pilot in the South Pacific, flying 59 missions during the World War II and another 90 in Korea. It was during this time he earned the less-than-dignified nickname “Magnet Ass” for his ability to attract enemy fire, but that belies the scope of his service: Glenn was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on six occasions, among others, according to NASA.

After Korea, Glenn joined the U.S. Navy’s Test Pilot School, graduating in 1954. He continued to work as a test pilot until 1959, being awarded his fifth Distinguished Flying Cross for completing the first supersonic transcontinental flight (code-named Project Bullet) in 1957.

A year later, Glenn was one of seven astronauts selected by the newly formed NASA (whittled down from a pool of 508, per NASA) to become the so-called “Mercury Seven,” America’s first astronauts. (Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper and Deke Slayton were the other six members of the group.) Glenn nearly didn’t make the cut: he was close to the cutoff age of 40 and had yet to earn the requisite science degree.

Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth on Feb, 20, 1962, as part of the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission. He was the third American in space and the fifth human being in space. Upon reaching orbit, his words back to NASA were “Zero G, and I feel fine.” He would go onto to circle the globe three times after those words.

“When my flight came up, it was almost as if it was designed by Hollywood for suspense,” Glenn told the Washington Post in 1998. The American space program was “open for the whole world to see” — as opposed to the intensely secretive Soviet program — “so the whole world emoted right along with us.”

The importance of Glenn’s initial mission to the American identity at the time was crucial: the so-called “Space Race” seemed to be a matter of life and death and the unflappable, Midwestern Glenn was seen as the All-American boy to clinch the contest for the U.S.A. His mission was not without trouble, however — it was postponed 10 times, and not only did Glenn have to take manual control of his capsule when the systems went south at one point, but he had to watch his craft’s heat shield burn up upon re-entry and peel off the ship.

NASA officials called his beloved wife Annie (the pair were married from 1943 until Glenn’s death), fearing the worst, but Glenn remained a picture of calm. His pulse never registered above 110 beats per minute during his ascent, the projected minimum and as he passed through the journey’s maximum pressure point, his report was, “Little bumpy up here.” His first words upon emerging from the craft’s splashdown in the Atlantic ocean were, “It was hot in there.”

Glenn returned to Earth an American hero unlike any other. Four million people turned out to his ticker tape parade in New York City NASA assigned him special personnel solely to handle his mail, the Post noted. The success of the mission essentially paved the way for the continuation of the U.S.’s space program and was a major boon to President John F. Kennedy, who had championed the project, as well as a blow to the perceived dominance of Russia in the space program.

Glenn resigned from NASA in 1964 with the intention of running for the Senate. A concussion and his subsequent recovery postponed his political career until December 1974, when he was elected as a Democratic Senator for his home state of Ohio. Glenn was caught up in the Keating Five scandal of 1989 when he and four other Senators were accused of improperly interfering with a regulatory investigation into the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association in 1987 after the Association’s Chairman, Charles Keating, made contributions of more than $1 million to various senators. Glenn and John McCain were the only two of the five to be exonerated of the charges, and in 1992, Glenn made history by becoming the first popularly elected Senator from his state to win four consecutive terms.

Six years later at age 77, Glenn made history again, becoming the oldest person to go into space, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery’s STS-95 mission. Glenn had lobbied NASA for two years to fly as a “human guinea pig for geriatric studies,” the New York Times reported. He apparently had no idea he was going to fly the mission until being informed he was approved by NASA, he recounted in his memoir. Upon his return from the nine-day mission, he became the 10th — and the most recent — individual to receive multiple-ticker-tape parades in their lifetime.

Glenn was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. “On the morning that John Glenn blasted off into space, America stood still,” President Obama said during the presentation ceremony, according to Space.com. 𠇏or a half an hour, the phone stopped ringing at Chicago police headquarters. New York subway drivers offered a play-by-play account over the loud speakers. President Kennedy interrupted a breakfast with congressional leaders to join 100 million TV viewers to hear the famous words ‘Godspeed John Glenn.’ ”

“The first American to orbit the Earth,” Obama added, “John Glenn became a hero in every sense of the word.”


Another Journey for John Glenn’s Ansco Camera

In 1962, John Glenn purchased a camera at a drug store that served as the first astronomical experiment performed by a human in space. That three-orbit voyage for Glenn included two cameras, one the Ansco he purchased and the other a Leica supplied by NASA. The flight not only kicked off decades of orbital experiences for U.S. astronauts, but also science experiments, observations, and thousands of rolls of film and digital files created through hand-held photography. The results of those experiments and the photos taken are what people left on Earth use even today to understand human spaceflight. Recently, I had the opportunity to accompany the Secretary of the Smithsonian, Wayne Clough, to Congress for his testimony to the House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior and Environment, and Related Agencies. As part of the testimony, I presented John Glenn’s Ansco camera as one example of the artifacts we used at the National Air and Space Museum to talk about the 50 th anniversary of the first human spaceflight. I was even given time to relate the full story of this camera to the Subcommittee members, which was a real honor. For me, this is a key artifact in the story I am working on for my PhD dissertation at George Mason University, making the experience invaluable. For the camera, it was one perhaps final journey on top of those three historic orbits in Friendship 7.

As a curator, two things make this camera an interesting artifact to study and interpret for our exhibits and in my dissertation. First, as John Glenn relates the story of this time in his autobiography and elsewhere, NASA had trouble figuring out how an astronaut could use a camera in space. Few cameras on the market in the early 1960s were simple enough to use on Earth to make them easy to use in microgravity. Glenn found this Ansco at a Cocoa Beach drug store where he had stopped after a haircut to grab a few things. The Ansco Autoset (actually a Minolta Hi-Matic, repackaged by the New York-based Ansco Company) had automatic exposure settings, so Glenn would not need to change the f-stops on the camera during an already busy mission plan. To make the camera usable with his bulky astronaut gloves, engineers flipped the camera upside down so they could attach a pistol grip and special buttons to control the shutter and film advance. They even moved the eyepiece to the bottom (now the top) of the camera so Glenn could target the constellation Orion for the spectrographic ultraviolet photography he was to perform. In this case, we see how in the early days of NASA, astronauts developed a very personal role in their missions, and also how innovative and creative solutions became for making what we think of as basic tasks easy to do in space. The other fascinating part of this artifact’s story is how confused it became over the 50 years since it flew. Little is said by Senator Glenn about the Leica camera he also used in space, which actually captured the standard 35mm images we see in books and newspapers. It was not modified as much, with only a larger eyepiece put on top to make it easier to use with his spacesuit visor down. Yet in newspaper stories, books, magazines, and even our own artifact records at the Museum, it seemed people easily interchanged the cameras for each other in the story of photography on Friendship 7. Curator Michael Neufeld nailed this down once and for all with his essay in our book After Sputnik, when he showed how the Ansco camera has a special prism lens attached for the ultraviolet photography, while the Leica has a standard 50mm lens on it.

This experience with the Ansco camera on Capitol Hill was a truly unique day in my career, and I owe a special thanks to Samantha Snell from our Collections Division for managing the safe transport and handling of the camera. Also, to Malcolm Collum, our head conservator, for the fantastically built traveling case, and Derrick Fiedler of our Exhibits Production division for another perfect display stand. I am grateful for the opportunity to share the story of one of our priceless and unique artifacts we are entrusted by the American people to preserve and interpret. [Author's Note: Additional research done well after this was published indicated that the Ansco was used in standard photography and the Leica was used for the spectrographic images of stars in Orion’s belt.]


John Porter Glenn

John Glenn, son of James Glenn II, was born 1768-71, in Pennsylvania, and died 1840-1850, Iowa.

He was married before 1793, in South Carolina, to Jane Saline, who was born 1769, in South Carolina, and died 1862, in Clark County, Iowa.

"Home to Glory -- The Life of Jane GLENN French and the Genealogy of the Glenn Family", March 1960

"John came with his brother, James III, to Sevier County, Tennessee in 1803. John's wife's first name was Jane, but no record of her maiden name or where he married her. In 1816, John and his wife, Jane, came with his brother James III to Crawford County, Indiana and stayed until 1826, when he moved to DeWitt County, Illinois. He brought with him his wife, a widowed son-in-law, Abraham Hobbs and his four children. He squatted in the Kickapoo Timber in Sec. 29, Waynesville Township. He remained but a few years and moved with his grandchildren farther west where he died. (No further record.) The above is taken from the records of DeWitt County, Illinois and Crawford County, Indiana."

"HISTORY OF DE WITT COUNTY, ILLINOIS", by W. R. Brink & County, Philadelphia, 1882, Page 52

"The GLENNS, who followed in the next year [about 1826], were from South Carolina. The sire of the family, John Glenn, was an old man when he arrived he remained only a few years.

Thomas M. Glenn, a son, had come with his father, and remained in the county for nearly thirty years. Later, about the year 1856, he emigrated to Iowa.

S. P. Glenn, another son, came in 1827. S. P. was a man of family at the time he was probably the first bona fide landowner in De Witt County. S. P. Glenn, now the patriarch of the county, represented it in the State's legislature from 1846 to 1848, and the first county assessment charges him with the ownership of a watch valued at forty dollars his watch must have been the first gold watch brought into the county.


John Glenn, Astronaut and Senator Flew 59 Combat Missions In WWII And Shot Down 3 Russian MiG-15s in Korea

John Glenn, born July 18, 1921, was the oldest living former U.S. senator until his death on December 8. Before his 25-year career in the Senate (1974-1999), however, he earned his place in American history flying at breakneck speeds in rocket-powered dog fights and orbiting Earth as part of NASA’s original Mercury 7 group of astronauts.

John Glenn was a legendary figure. He was a high achiever in every arena he stepped into, despite less than compelling starts. For example, after he announced his first bid for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Ohio, his campaign was not long underway when he slipped and hit his head on the bathtub, causing a concussion and inner-ear problems that ended his run. And despite a hard fight to secure the Democratic Party primary to run for the seat, several failed presidential bids, and even a scandal, he lasted through a long and successful Senate career.

Likewise, though technically not meeting the minimum criteria NASA had laid out for selecting the Mercury 7, he made the cut and in 1990, he was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

The same theme holds true for his impressive military aviation career. After Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, Glenn quit college to join the U.S. Army Air Corps, which didn’t call him up for duty. So, he joined up as a U.S. Navy aviation cadet and received advanced flight training. Again, he was to transfer to the U.S. Marine Corps before he saw any flight action.

Eventually, he transferred again to squadron VMF-155 and flew 59 combat missions in the Pacific. He was promoted to the rank of captain before the end of World War II.

The plane he operated in these missions was the F4U Corsair, one of the fiercest fighters the U.S. had put into the skies before jet-propelled aircraft became the latest and greatest. Japanese pilots knew the F4U to be their greatest challenge among the fighters they encountered through the war. The U.S. Navy puts their kill ratio at 11:1.

Glenn next served in the Korean War (1950-53), again with the Marines, and started off flying an F9F Panther jet interceptor (he flew 63 combat missions in this craft). This jet fighter was straight-wing and was constantly being outclassed by the Russian-built MiG-15. The U.S. had a counter to this, however: the F-86 Sabre, which had been in development for several years and adopted by the Air Force in 1949. It was the first U.S. swept-wing fighter (like the MiG-15) and, of course, had a jet engine.

Glenn joined an interservice exchange program for his second tour in Korea and flew the model F-86F Sabre with the Air Force’s 51 st Fighter Wing..

John Glenn in a Mercury spacesuit.

U.S. Marine pilot John Glenn in uniform.

Though the MiG-15s had better guns, acceleration, climb, top speed and maneuverability at higher altitudes than the F-86F Sabre, the latter had better speed and maneuverability at much lower altitudes and one more very useful feature. The F-86 fighters were equipped with a radar gunsight which even calculated target range on screen for the pilots. This proved a huge asset and helped level the playing field for the U.S. pilots. The Russians worked like mad to get their hands on one of these

John Glenn’s F-86F Sabre in 1953.

Glenn flew 27 combat missions in the F-86F Sabre and, in one of the last days of fighting before the ceasefire, shot down 3 MiG-15s.

After the Korean War, Glenn went through training at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School and became an armament officer, flying planes at high altitude and testing their cannons and machine guns. Throughout his life of flying America’s top aircraft, Glenn logged over 9,000 hours of flight time.

Glenn at the Mercury Control Center on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base.

In one of many noteworthy accomplishments, records, and firsts, Glenn was the first person to complete a transcontinental flight at supersonic speed on July 16 th , 1957. His craft was the Vought F8U-3P Crusader, the first U.S. plane which could sustain speeds over 1,000 mph. He flew from Naval Air Station Los Alamitos, California, to Floyd Bennett Field, New York, in 3 hours, 23 minutes, and 8.3 seconds.

These were the days of some of America’s most storied pilots pushing the bounds of human flight both in speed and altitude. Tom Wolfe wrote the famed novel The Right Stuff about these men and their daring lives. A huge feature of the book is the selection of the Mercury 7. Of that group of pilots who captured American awe and fascination, NASA figured John Glenn was one who had the “right stuff” to go into space.

Launch of the Friendship 7 atop its rocket February 20th, 1962.

He was just barely within the age requirement (40 being the limit) and didn’t have a completed college degree, but he was chosen, regardless. On February 20 th , 1962, during the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission, John Glenn became the first American to complete an entire orbit around the Earth. In fact, he orbited Earth three times in 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds in the Friendship 7 capsule, before re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. Glenn reached the velocity of 17,544 mph on his cruise around the globe.

Glenn returned to land an American hero. He was awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal by President John F. Kennedy, which started a close friendship with several members of the Kennedy family. This, along with NASA noting him as the member of the Mercury 7 most suited for public life back in the selection process, probably prompted both his Senate and presidential bids.

Ask many astronauts, however, and they’ll tell you space has a beckoning allure which calls them back. Glenn spent two years in the mid-1990s pushing NASA to accept that he could be a test subject for geriatrics in space. In 1998, NASA announced that Glenn was selected as part of the space shuttle crew for Discovery’s STS-95 mission. And on October 29 th , 1998, Glenn became the oldest person ever to go into space at the age of 77.

John Glenn posing for a photograph in 1998, the world’s oldest astronaut.

His whole life, John challenged the limits of what human beings can do in the sky and has been granted the recognition of a nation in great admiration.

According to NASA, his list of awards and honors are as follows: “Glenn has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on six occasions, and holds the Air Medal with 18 Clusters for his service during World War II and Korea.

Glenn also holds the Navy Unit Commendation for service in Korea, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the China Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, the Navy’s Astronaut Wings, the Marine Corps’ Astronaut Medal, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

On March 1, 1999, NASA renamed its Cleveland center the ‘John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field’ in his honor.”

John Glenn died in hospital in Columbus, Ohio, on December 8, 2016, at the age of 95. An inspiration to us all.


John Glenn: First American to Orbit the Earth

Astronaut John Glenn, Jr., enters his Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, on his way to becomming the first American to orbit the Earth.

Bryan Ethier
October 1997

On the morning of February 20, 1962, millions of Americans collectively held their breath as the world’s newest pioneer swept across the threshold of one of man’s last frontiers. Roughly a hundred miles above their heads, astronaut John Glenn sat comfortably in the weightless environment of a 9 1/2-by-6-foot space capsule he called Friendship 7. Within these close quarters he worked through his flight plan and completed an array of technical and medical tests as he cruised through the heavens.

It offered the leg room of a Volkswagen Beetle and the aesthetics of a garbage can, but the small capsule commanded an extraordinary view of the planet Earth. Through the craft’s window, Glenn saw thick, puffy, white clouds blanketing much of southern Africa and the Indian Ocean. The Atlas Mountains of North Africa stood like proud, majestic statues on a planet that seemed as timeless as the stars that twinkled an eternity away. Dust storms blew across the deserts, and smoke from brush fires swirled into the atmosphere.

“Oh, that view is tremendous,” Glenn remarked over the radio to capsule communicator (Capcom) Alan Shepard, his fellow Mercury astronaut stationed back at mission control. As Friendship 7 passed over the Indian Ocean, Glenn witnessed his first sunset from space, a panorama of beautiful, brilliant colors. Before the conclusion of that historic day, he would witness a total of four sunsets—three while in earth orbit, and the fourth from the deck of his recovery ship.

For Glenn, the historic voyage of Friendship 7 remained a vivid memory. Even years after, people would ask him what it felt like to be the first American to orbit the earth. And often he would think of his capsule’s breathtaking liftoff and those subtle, emotionally empowering sunrises and sunsets.

“Here on earth you see a sunrise, it’s golden, it’s orange,” Glenn recalled. “When you’re in space, and you’re coming around on a sunset or sunrise, where the light comes to you refracted through the earth’s atmosphere and back out into space, to the space craft that refraction has the same glowing color for all the colors of the spectrum . . . .”

There have been more than 10,000 sunsets since his orbital flight helped launch the United States deeper into a space race with the former Soviet Union. And although Glenn’s political career as a Democratic senator from Ohio had kept him in the public eye, he is remembered by many of his countrymen as the first American to circle the planet and as the affable spokesman for the seven Mercury astronauts.

Glenn marveled at how people all over the world still recall the heady days of the Mercury program. “It’s been heartwarming in some respects and it’s amazing in others,” he said. “I don’t go around all day, saying ‘Don’t you want to hear about my space experience?’ Quite the opposite. But if the kids come to the office here, or if I run into them on the subway and they want to stop a minute, I don’t hesitate to stop and talk. I think it’s good I think that’s a duty we [former astronauts] have.”

By the time Glenn and Friendship 7 burst through the earth’s atmosphere, the United States was already a distant second in space technology behind the Soviet Union. The race to begin to explore the universe had unofficially begun on October 4, 1957, when the Soviets launched Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite.

“I think Sputnik sort of forced the hand,” said Gene Kranz, who served as Project Mercury’s assistant flight director and section chief for flight control operations. “I think we found ourselves an embarrassing second in space and related technologies. We were second best, and Americans generally don’t like that kind of a role.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, however, was more concerned about the country’s security than its self-esteem. With the Soviets having the rocket power to propel a satellite into space, he wondered how long it would be before they were capable of launching a nuclear bomb toward the United States. In response to this perceived Soviet threat, Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) into being on July 29, 1958. One of the first assignments given to the new agency was to launch a man into space and return him safely to earth, and that fall, Project Mercury was created to fulfill that daunting task.

On April 9, 1959, NASA formally introduced to the world the seven test pilots who would, it was hoped, carry the U.S. banner to the heavens. Selected were: Lieutenant Commanders Malcolm Scott Carpenter, Walter Marty Schirra, and Alan B. Shepard of the Navy Air Force captains Leroy Gordon Cooper, Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and Donald “Deke” Slayton and Lieutenant Colonel John H. Glenn of the Marine Corps.

Born on July 18, 1921, Glenn was the oldest of the group, arguably the most celebrated, and an obvious candidate for Mercury from the beginning. A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Glenn had flown 149 combat missions and been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross five times. After completing test-pilot school in 1954, Glenn went to work testing the fastest jets America could produce. His resume sparkled even more in 1957 after he set a transcontinental speed record for the first flight to average supersonic speed (seven hundred miles per hour) from Los Angeles to New York.

From their first public appearance together, the Mercury 7 astronauts, as they came to be known, were celebrities and heroes. “We were at first extremely surprised when we were announced to the whole world, and how crazy everybody went over the whole thing,” laughs Cooper.

But enthusiasm for the project was one thing making it a success was more difficult. There were countless variables and unknowns to conquer: weightlessness, a new capsule, an inconsistent booster in the Atlas rocket, and of course, the awesome specter of space. “To put it bluntly, we didn’t know what we were doing in many areas of the Mercury program and we were fortunate our country understood there was no achievement without risk,” admits Kranz.

As the Mercury project evolved and moved into the next decade, NASA found a crucial supporter in President John F. Kennedy. Just weeks into his term, however, the Soviets scored another technological coup. On April 2, 1961, Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly in space, orbiting the earth once during his one hour, 48-minute flight, which came just three months after a U.S. Redstone rocket had carried a chimp named Ham into space and brought him safely back.

On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard made America’s first, manned suborbital voyage, flying for 15 minutes and reaching an altitude of 116 miles. Compared to Gagarin’s flight around the world, Shepard’s 302-mile mission was a mere stopover between ports of call. It was, however, a major boost to America’s pride. While Gagarin flew under a cloak of secrecy, Shepard’s flight was broadcast live on television.

The early success of the Mercury Program spurred President Kennedy to inspire NASA to reach for new heights. On May 25, he grabbed the world’s attention when he told Congress that the nation’s new goal was to complete a manned trip to the moon before the end of the decade. For the first time in its space duel with the Soviet Union, the United States, which had so far amassed just 15 minutes of manned space-flight time, had set the stakes. Gene Kranz recalled with a laugh that “we thought he was crazy,” but the astronauts also felt energized to meet the new challenge.

NASA turned its efforts up a notch that summer. In July, Gus Grissom replicated Shepard’s short suborbital flight, and by the fall, NASA was ready to attempt putting a spacecraft in orbit. As a final test in preparation for a manned trip, a chimpanzee named Enos was launched into space in late November. The craft carrying Enos completed two orbits before landing safely back on earth, after which NASA announced that on December 20 of that year, John Glenn would make the first American orbital flight.

Before taking this next giant leap toward the moon, however, NASA had to ensure that an astronaut could function in a weightless environment for an extended period of time. Some scientists feared that without proper equipment and technology, a space traveler’s eyeballs would bulge out of their sockets and change shape. This, in turn, would distort his vision and preclude his flying the craft should any of the automatic controls fail. Also, scientists feared that fluid in the inner ear might float freely into the air and that Glenn would become so nauseated and disoriented that he would be unable to perform his tasks.

In addition to its concerns about Glenn’s adaptability to weightlessness, NASA worried about the inconsistent Atlas booster, the huge rocket designed to push Glenn’s ship into orbit. Two of the five unmanned test firings conducted on the 93-foot Atlas prior to Glenn’s mission had failed. The memory of one of those failures has remained vivid for Glenn. It was a night test, he remembered, “and it was very dramatic–searchlights and a beautiful starlit night. Not a cloud in the sky. They light this thing, and up she goes . . . . At about 27,000 feet it blew up right over our heads. It looked like an atom bomb went off right there.”

To add to the mounting tension, poor weather and mechanical problems with the rocket forced NASA to “scrub” Glenn’s scheduled mission nine times. Finally, on February 20, 1962, seven months after America’s last manned flight, John Glenn would don his bulky pressure suit one more time.

Rising out of bed in his “ready room” at NASA’s space craft center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 2:20 a.m., he checked the weather report, which indicated a 50 percent chance of rain. Glenn showered and shaved and had the customary astronaut’s breakfast of steak and eggs, before taking a preflight physical. If the many weeks of anticipation weighed on Glenn’s mind, his body did not reflect it.

Four hours later, Glenn made the short ride to the rocket’s launch site. When he emerged from the transfer van, Launch Pad 14 resembled a movie set as giant floodlights waved streams of milky white upon the rocket and the surrounding area. The huge Atlas was a glowing silver sword in the coal black night. “My flight was—it was like you staged it,” recalled Glenn. “It was Hollywoodesque.”

Two hours before his scheduled liftoff, Glenn squeezed into the cramped cabin of Friendship 7, perched atop the Atlas rocket. The sky was clearing, and just before 8:00 a.m. technicians began the laborious task of bolting on the entry hatch of the craft. Sealed inside the capsule, Glenn felt truly alone. The minutes ticked by slowly as he calmly and methodically worked through his preflight checklist. Finally, Glenn heard the flight team give his mission an “A-OK” over the radio. With all systems functioning normally, Glenn acknowledged his preparedness with a firm “ready.” As the final countdown to liftoff began, backup pilot Scott Carpenter’s voice crackled over Glenn’s radio: “Godspeed, John Glenn.”

At 9:47 a.m., the rocket’s three engines ignited. Friendship 7 began to vibrate as the mighty Atlas built up 350,000 pounds of thrust, the force needed to lift Glenn and his craft into orbit. For a few interminable seconds, the massive rocket held steady. Finally, its hold-down clamps released, and the Atlas slowly, agonizingly clutched and pulled at the bright blue sky. “We are under way,” Glenn reported to Mercury Control.

Minutes later, Glenn was 100 miles above the earth and traveling at more than 17,000 miles per hour. With all systems running smoothly during his initial orbit, Control advised him that he “had a go” for at least seven turns around the earth. Unlike Soviet Cosmonaut Gherman Titov, who had experienced nausea and dizziness during his recent 16-orbit flight, Glenn worked and ate without difficulty. As he gazed earthward through the capsule’s window, he noted how fragile the planet appeared, shielded from the unforgiving vacuum of space by a film of atmosphere that seemed no more dense than an eggshell.

Back at Mercury Control, the flight team, headed by Chris Kraft and Kranz, kept their focus on more practical considerations. After Glenn’s first orbit, Control had received a telemetry signal indicating that his capsule’s heat shield might be loose. If that signal was correct, Glenn and the spacecraft would disintegrate in the 3000-degree heat generated by reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. There seemed to be only one solution to this potentially tragic problem. If Glenn refrained from jettisoning the ship’s retro-rocket package, a normal procedure just before reentry, its titanium straps might hold the shield in place. Control advised Glenn of their decision to end his flight and ordered him to plan for reentry after his third orbit.

Unwilling to burden Glenn with concern over the possible heat-shield malfunction, Control offered no explanation for their decision until he was safely home. Glenn was suspicious, but all parts of Friendship 7 seemed to him to be working properly so he concerned himself only with what was within his control. Before long, the capsule splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean.

“When I started back in through the atmosphere, when the straps that held the retropack on burned off, one of them popped up in front of the window,” Glenn remembers. “I thought the retropack or the heat shield was breaking up. It was a real fireball. But the heat shield worked fine.”

Glenn’s flight was a public relations boon for the U.S. space program. He returned to a hero’s welcome and a wildly emotional New York City ticker-tape parade. The United States had made a significant step forward in its competition with the Soviet Union and its quest for the moon. Few people knew, however, that the nation’s most famous pilot would never again fly in space.

As Glenn recalled, “President Kennedy had passed word to NASA, and I didn’t know this for some years, that I was not to be used again on a flight, at least for a while. You can’t believe being the focal point of that kind of attention when we came back. I don’t know if he was concerned about political fallout, or what.” Glenn was disappointed that he never again traveled into space, but said,”I don’t feel cheated because I had such a tremendous flight.”

Three years after the confetti and streamers had blown away, John Glenn left NASA and, relegating space flight to a vivid memory, moved into another public arena. Politics is a high-profile world in which Glenn’s clean-cut image and amiable personality had easily endeared him to his constituents and to the public in general. In 1974, he was elected to the U.S. Senate by his home state of Ohio, an office he held through three more terms.

Despite the passage of more than a quarter century, Glenn recalled the innocent joy he found in those wondrous space sunsets. He never lost the ability to draw inspiration from his experiences and to channel it into a positive outlook. “I think its an attitude,” he said, of maintaining his inner youth. “I think kids have an expectation of what’s going to happen tomorrow. I think some people are able to maintain that whole thing, this expectation about what they’re looking forward to.”

Not surprisingly, Senator Glenn found his time consumed by the business of Capitol Hill. But whenever a bright-eyed teenager asked Glenn to describe a launch or splashdown, the senator from Ohio again became one of America’s first astronauts, as he relived that historic day in 1962 when time stood still and three space sunsets blazed like campfires of a thousand sparkling colors.

This article was written by Bryan Ethier and originally published in October 1997 issue of American History Magazine.

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John Glenn

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Not looking like John Glenn

While much of the commentary about Glenn since his death has been highly celebratory, a subtle line of critique has reawakened questions about the ways in which gender, race, ethnicity and class have been inscribed in the history of America’s space program. A woman identified as “Hope” was the lone voice in The New York Times comments to urge people to remember that the first astronauts “knew they were there because they were men, and were white, and were chosen above others who may have been just as fit but didn’t look like John Glenn.”

In fact, Glenn’s death has helped bring welcome attention to the accomplishments of some of the U.S. space program’s unsung heroes, individuals who did not look like the famed astronaut but who helped make his voyage possible. Mentions of the much-anticipated feature film Hidden Figures, set for debut in early January, are especially noticeable.

Meet the remarkable African American Women of @nasa who made John Glenn's inaugural orbit around Earth possible https://t.co/MLmo0toeoG pic.twitter.com/NnWacIujts

— Clarke Center (@imagineUCSD) December 8, 2016

The movie focuses on Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn – three African-American women of NASA who helped make John Glenn’s flight around the Earth possible. As writer and social critic Rebecca Carroll put it in a tweet, Glenn became “the first American to orbit the earth bc he trusted a black woman to do the math.” As of this writing, it was retweeted more than any other #johnglenn item in recent days.

RIP #johnglenn. The first American to orbit the earth bc he trusted a black woman to do the math. #KatherineJohnson @HiddenFigures

— Rebecca Carroll (@rebel19) December 8, 2016

President Obama wrote in his statement on Glenn’s death that “John always had the right stuff, inspiring generations of scientists, engineers and astronauts who will take us to Mars and beyond – not just to visit, but to stay.” The quest to broaden that group to include people who don’t look like Glenn, but who aspire to his highest goals has become a national priority. NASA has diversified the astronaut corps significantly since the heyday of Projects Mercury and Apollo, and has taken conscious steps to make the agency more inclusive overall. Meanwhile, a much wider spectrum of positive STEM role models exists today both in real life and mass culture.

The excitement of a Mars mission featuring a diverse set of heroes might be just the ticket America needs to inspire a new generation of children to reach for the stars. Fill out your application here.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Watch the video: John Glenns entire interview with Cronkite