Glenn, 1st Amer­i­can to or­bit earth, dies

Later served in Se­nate for 24 years

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY SETH BOREN­STEIN

John Glenn, whose 1962 flight as the first U.S. as­tro­naut to or­bit the Earth made him an all-Amer­i­can hero and pro­pelled him to a long ca­reer in the U.S. Se­nate, died Thurs­day. The last sur­vivor of the orig­i­nal Mer­cury 7 as­tro­nauts was 95.

Mr. Glenn died at the James Can­cer Hospi­tal in Colum­bus, Ohio, where he was hos­pi­tal­ized for more than a week, said Hank Wil­son, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for the John Glenn School of Pub­lic Af­fairs.

John Her­schel Glenn Jr. had two ma­jor ca­reer paths that of­ten in­ter­sected, fly­ing and pol­i­tics, and he soared in both of them.

Be­fore he gained fame or­bit­ing the world, he was a fighter pi­lot in two wars, and as a test pi­lot, he set a transcon­ti­nen­tal speed record. He later served 24 years in the Se­nate from Ohio. A rare set­back was a failed 1984 run for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

His long po­lit­i­cal ca­reer en­abled him to re­turn to space in the shut­tle Dis­cov­ery at age 77 in 1998, a cos­mic vic­tory lap that he rel­ished and turned into a teach­able mo­ment about grow­ing old. He holds the record as the old­est per­son in space.

More than any­thing, Mr. Glenn was the ul­ti­mate and uniquely Amer­i­can space hero: a com­bat vet­eran with an easy smile, a strong mar­riage of 70 years and nerves of steel. Schools, a space cen­ter and the Colum­bus air­port were named af­ter him. So were chil­dren.

The Soviet Union leaped ahead in space ex­plo­ration by putting the Sputnik 1 satel­lite in or­bit in 1957, and then launched the first man in space, cos­mo­naut Yuri Ga­garin, in a 108-minute or­bital flight on April 12, 1961. Af­ter two sub­or­bital flights by Alan Shep­ard Jr. and Gus Gris­som, it was up to Mr. Glenn to be the first Amer­i­can to or­bit the Earth.

“God­speed, John Glenn,” fel­low as­tro­naut Scott Car­pen­ter ra­dioed just be­fore Mr. Glenn thun­dered off a Cape Canaveral launch pad, now a Na­tional His­toric Land­mark, to a place Amer­ica had never been. At the time of that Feb. 20, 1962, flight, Mr. Glenn was 40 years old.

Dur­ing the four-hour, 55-minute flight, Mr. Glenn ut­tered a phrase that he would re­peat fre­quently through­out life: “Zero G, and I feel fine.”

“It still seems so vivid to me,” Mr. Glenn said in a 2012 in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press on the 50th an­niver­sary of the flight. “I still can sort of pseudo feel some of those same sen­sa­tions I had back in those days dur­ing launch and all.”

Mr. Glenn’s ride in the cramped Friend­ship 7 capsule had its scary mo­ments. Sen­sors showed his heat shield was loose af­ter three or­bits, and Mis­sion Con­trol wor­ried he might burn up dur­ing re-en­try when tem­per­a­tures reached 3,000 de­grees. But the heat shield held.

Mr. Glenn was born July 18, 1921, in Cam­bridge, Ohio, and grew up in New Con­cord, Ohio. His love of flight was life­long; John Glenn Sr. spoke of the many sum­mer evenings he ar­rived home to find his son run­ning around the yard with out­stretched arms, pre­tend­ing he was pi­lot­ing a plane.

Mr. Glenn’s goal of be­com­ing a com­mer­cial pi­lot was changed by World War II. He left Musk­ingum Col­lege to join the Naval Air Corps and, soon af­ter, the Marines.

He be­came a suc­cess­ful fighter pi­lot who ran 59 haz­ardous mis­sions, of­ten as a vol­un­teer or as the re­quested backup of as­signed pi­lots. A war later, in Korea, he earned the nick­name “MiG-Mad Ma­rine.”

Mr. Glenn’s pub­lic life be­gan when he broke the transcon­ti­nen­tal air­speed record, burst­ing from Los An­ge­les to New York City in three hours, 23 min­utes and eight sec­onds. With his Cru­sader av­er­ag­ing 725 mph, the 1957 flight proved the jet could en­dure stress when pushed to max­i­mum speeds over long dis­tances.

In New York he got a hero’s wel­come — his first ticker tape pa­rade. He got another af­ter his flight on Friend­ship 7.

He first ran for the U.S. Se­nate in 1964 but left the race when he suf­fered a con­cus­sion af­ter slip­ping in the bath­room and hit­ting his head on the tub. He tried again in 1970 but was de­feated in the pri­mary.

For the next four years, Mr. Glenn de­voted his at­ten­tion to busi­ness and in­vest­ments that made him a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire. In 1974 Mr. Glenn ran for the Se­nate again and won.

Mr. Glenn rep­re­sented Ohio in the Se­nate longer than any other se­na­tor in the state’s his­tory. He be­came an ex­pert on nu­clear weaponry and was the Se­nate’s most dogged ad­vo­cate of non­pro­lif­er­a­tion. He was the lead­ing sup­porter of the B-1 bomber when many in Congress doubted the need for it.

Mr. Glenn said the low­est point of his life was in 1990, when he and four other se­na­tors came un­der scru­tiny for their connections to Charles Keat­ing, the no­to­ri­ous fi­nancier who even­tu­ally served prison time for his role in the costly sav­ings and loan fail­ure of the 1980s. The Se­nate Ethics Com­mit­tee cleared Mr. Glenn of se­ri­ous wrong­do­ing but said he “ex­er­cised poor judg­ment.”

He an­nounced his im­pend­ing re­tire­ment in 1997, 35 years to the day af­ter he be­came the first Amer­i­can in or­bit, say­ing, “There is still no cure for the com­mon birth­day.”

Mr. Glenn re­turned to space in a long-awaited sec­ond flight in 1998 aboard the space shut­tle Dis­cov­ery. He got to move around aboard the shut­tle for far longer — nine days, com­pared with just un­der five hours in 1962 — as well as sleep and ex­per­i­ment with bub­bles in weight­less­ness.

In 1943 Mr. Glenn mar­ried his child­hood sweet­heart, Anna Mar­garet Cas­tor. They had two chil­dren, Carolyn and John David.

The cou­ple spent their later years go­ing be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Colum­bus. Both served as trus­tees at their alma mater, Musk­ingum Col­lege. Mr. Glenn spent time pro­mot­ing the John Glenn School of Pub­lic Af­fairs at Ohio State Uni­ver­sity, which also houses an ar­chive of his pri­vate pa­pers and pho­to­graphs.


John Glenn, the last sur­vivor of the Mer­cury 7 space pro­gram and the first Amer­i­can to or­bit the Earth, died Thurs­day at the age of 95. Mr. Glenn’s mo­men­tous flight lasted four hours, and he would re­turn to space again in 1998 at the age of 77. Mr. Glenn was later a Demo­cratic se­na­tor for his home state of Ohio for 24 years.

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