Thursday, December 8, 2016

Astronaut John Glenn (1921-2016)

Former Astronaut John Glenn has died.

Born 20 July 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio, John Herschel Glenn, Jr. was a true American hero.  He served in the United States Marine Corps as a fighter pilot during both World War II and the Korean War.  After the Korean War, he remained in the service as a test pilot.  In 1959, we was named as one of the first seven American astronauts (the Mercury Seven).

On 20 February 1962, Astronaut John Herschel Glenn, Jr. became the first American to orbit the Earth in the "Friendship 7" spacecraft.  Two Soviet cosmonauts had previously orbited the earth in Vostok spacecraft.  The first human in space, Yuri Gagarin made one orbit in the Vostok 1 and Gherman Titov made 17 orbits in the Vostok 2.

Glenn was the third American to be launched into space as part of NASA's Project Mercury - flights by Alan Shepherd (Freedom 7) and Virgil "Gus" Grissom (Liberty Bell 7) each lasted approximately 15 minutes. 

When John Glenn safely landed he instantly became a national hero.  His flight was commemorated by dozens (probably hundreds) of different souvenir items.  The buttons in the photograph above are from my wife's collection of space memorobilia.

In 1964, Glenn resigned from NASA to run for the United States Senate.  He withdrew from the race due to symptoms of a concussion that did not allow him to campaign.  After losing a second senate campaign in 1970, he was finally elected to the office in 1974.  Glenn would go on to serve in the Senate until 1999.

While serving in the Senate, Glenn returned to space one more time aboard the the Space Shuttle Discovery.  As a trained engineer, Glenn's role during STS-95 (29 October - 07 November 1998) was to participate in experiments that tested the effects of weightlessness on the elderly.  It also allowed NASA the opportunity to study the effects of space flight on an individual at points in life more than three decades apart.

With this flight, John Glenn added another milestone to space travel.  In addition to being the first American to orbit the Earth, he is also the oldest person to travel into space.

John Glenn passed away today in Columbus, Ohio at the age of ninety-five.  He was an inspiration to millions and is already missed.

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