Are you old enough to remember the pride that the country felt when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth? It was overwhelming at the time. Gaining world fame as one of the original seven NASA astronauts was just one of many accomplishments in his remarkable life.
Glenn quit college after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 to join the military. After earning his wings as a Marine Corps Aviator he went on to fly 59 combat missions in the South Pacific during World War II.
During the Korean War Glenn served two tours logging a total of 149 combat missions and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross an honor he would ultimately be awarded six times in his career. In his first tour he flew 69 combat missions in the F9F Panther jet being one of the first pilots to fly the jet. He even flew with baseball legend Ted Williams (Marine Corp reservist) as his wingman during his time in Korea.
In July 1957 he set a new flying record going from California to New York with an average speed greater than the speed of sound. Designated Project Bullet, the transcontinental flight in a Vought F8U-3P Crusader lasted 3 hours, 23 minutes.
In 1958 the new space agency NASA began looking for potential astronauts. The decision was made to only recruit military test pilots due to their extensive aviation experience and technical background. Over 500 potential test pilots were originally screen and ultimately narrowed to seven selectees as the first NASA astronauts.
In April 1959, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, and Deke Slayton became instant world-wide sensations when they were announced as NASA’s “Original Mercury Seven” astronauts. Project Mercury was the designated name for the beginning stages of the American space program.
On February 20, 1962, John Glenn was lifted into space by an Atlas rocket and became the first American to ever orbit the Earth. Circling the planet three times in his spacecraft named Friendship 7, the flight lasted almost five hours from liftoff at the Kennedy Space Center until splashdown in the Atlantic ocean.
Upon experiencing weightlessness for the first time Glenn radioed to NASA, “Zero G, and I feel fine.” At the time it was unknown what the effects of weightlessness would be on the human body. He also exclaimed, “Oh, that view is tremendous!” when seeing the Earth from orbit.
His flight was scheduled to last longer but NASA received a signal that the re-entry capsule’s heat shield may have come loose. If the heat shield failed during re-entry the capsule would have burned up. The decision was made to return to Earth sooner than planned. Glenn was given a heroes welcome and a ticker tape parade in New York City to honors America’s returning astronaut.
After retiring from NASA and the Marine Corps, Glenn became a US Senator in 1974 serving in that role until 1999. He also unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984. Senator Glenn losing to Walter Mondale.
Senator Glenn was not done with his space adventures though and on October 29, 1998, he became the oldest human to go into space when at the age of 77 he rode the Space Shuttle Discovery into Earth orbit.
John Glenn died on December 8th, 2016 at the age of 95. He was the last surviving member of the original Mercury Seven astronauts.
Featured Image Courtesy of NASA
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