Legendary astronaut John Glenn died yesterday at the age of 95. Since the announcement of his passing, plenty of astronauts, former NASA officials and political leaders have expressed their feelings:
Sad news of the passing of Astonaut #JohnGlenn. It‘s an honor to get to work with him in support of STS-95 Shuttle mission. Rest in peace.
— Koichi Wakata (@Astro_Wakata) December 9, 2016
Getting to work with and know #johnglenn was one of the highlights of my life, he was one of the few who lived up to the word “hero”
— Mike Massimino (@Astro_Mike) December 9, 2016
John Glenn was an inspiration to millions, a cherished Senate colleague & a friend. My thoughts & prayers are with his family & loved ones.
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) December 9, 2016
— NASA Kennedy / KSC (@NASAKennedy) December 9, 2016
To honor his legacy, we’re celebrating these five key elements of his incredible life.
1. He’s one of the original astronauts.
Prior to his appointment to the NASA Mercury program, Glenn underwent testing for the capsule design. Given his extensive participation in the research process, Glenn seemed a natural fit for recruitment.
NASA selected him in 1959, and he and the research task force moved to Houston in 1962. Initially, Glenn served as backup pilot to Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom. The Mercury program and many of the layouts used became foundational for the Apollo program.
Glenn became the first man to orbit Earth on Feb. 20, 1962 while piloting the Friendship 7. The flight made him the third American in space and the fifth human ever to enter outer space.
2. He’s the oldest man to ever fly in space.
At age 77, Glenn made history by becoming the oldest member of the seven-astronaut crew of the Discovery shuttle. He can also be remembered as the only member to serve with both Mercury and shuttle programs.
Glenn flew with the Discovery program in 1998, during his last year with the US Senate. He served as the crew’s payload specialist.
[Image Source: NASA]
3. He held distinct political power.
After his service with NASA, Glenn became a democratic senator from his home state of Ohio. He served in that role for 24 years. During his tenure, he cast presidential bids, running as a Democrat in both 1976 and 1984.
Despite being namesake Democrat, he never seemed to vote in a partisan manner. Jack Kessler, a longtime friend of Glenn’s and chairman of the New Albany Company, said “I never heard him say a bad thing about anyone. Some of his best friends were Republicans, and he could work with anyone.”
4. He served in both the US Army and US Navy.
Glenn’s time in the military proved vital in cultivating his love for space. He read everything he could about the final frontier while on duty at NAS Patuxent River.
He initially enlisted in the US Army Air Corps after dropping out of college. However, it was his time as a Naval pilot that earned him his flight distinctions. He garnered nearly 9,000 hours of flight time, and he flew a third of that in high-speed jets.
Due to his consistent flight success, he became known as the military’s go-to test pilot. He flew the first supersonic transcontinental flight and set a new record in the process.
Friendship 7 flight [Image Source: Public Domain via Wikimedia]
Glenn continued to serve in the military, which greatly impacted not only his time with NASA but policies after he left the program. In June 1962, Glenn supported not having women in the NASA astronaut program, despite private companies selecting women like pilot Jerrie Cobb to undergo physiological testing for space. At the time of Glenn’s testimony before the House Space Committee, astronauts had to be military test pilots – something reserved for only men. That hurdle wouldn’t be overcome by an astronaut until Sally Ride in 1983’s Challenger flight.
5. He’s proof that small-town kids can do incredible things.
Glenn grew up in the small town of New Concord, Ohio. As of 2010, the New Concord population stood at roughly 2,500 people.
Glenn studied engineering at Muskingum College (now Muskingum University). He then earned a private pilot license for a physics course (if only that could still happen today) in 1941. However, Glenn didn’t complete his senior year in residence nor did he take a proficiency exam. (He enlisted during his senior year. See above description.) In 1962, Muskingum College granted Glenn his degree.