Farewell to a hero: Former astronaut John Glenn - the first American man to orbit the earth - dies aged 95 

  • John Glenn has passed away at the age of 95, one week after being admitted  to James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio with an unknown illness
  • He first made history in 1957 when he broke the transcontinental airspeed record, travelling from Los Angeles to New York City in just over three hours
  • He made history again on February 20, 1962 by becoming the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, circling the globe three times
  • Glenn went on to become a Senator for the state of Ohio after his first space mission, where he served for 25 years
  • Made history in 1998 as the oldest man to go into space at the age of 77
  • He is survived by wife of 73 years, Annie and his children, Carolyn and John Jr. 

Former senator John Glenn, a war hero who went on to become the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, has passed away at the age of 95. 

Glenn passed away on Thursday afternoon surrounded by family at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, over a week after he was first hospitalized for an unknown illness.

Glenn is survived by his wife of 73 years, Annie; his son John Glenn Jr.; his daughter Carolyn; and his grandchildren. 

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John Glenn (above in May 2015) has passed away at the age of 95 from an unknown illness 

In 1962, Glenn became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth (left). In 1998, he returned (right) to study its effects on the elderly, making him the oldest man to go into space at the age of 77

Glenn practices, in a full flightsuit, in a mock Project Mercury space capsule, Langley Research Center, Virginia, 1959. His work and experiences there became part of the 1983 film The Right Stuff

Glenn sits next to the Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962 space capsule atop an Atlas rocket just before he was launched into space to make the first orbit around the Earth

Glenn and his wife Annie (above on February 26, 1962 during a parade in his honor) met as toddlers and were married for 73 years at the time of his death

'John Glenn is, and always will be, Ohio’s ultimate hometown hero, and his passing today is an occasion for all of us to grieve,' said Ohio Governor John R. Kasich in a statement on Thursday. 

Zero-G and I feel fine. 
-John Glenn's first words in space on Feb. 20, 1962 

'As we bow our heads and share our grief with his beloved wife, Annie, we must also turn to the skies, to salute his remarkable journeys and his long years of service to our state and nation.

'Though he soared deep into space and to the heights of Capitol Hill, his heart never strayed from his steadfast Ohio roots. Godspeed, John Glenn!' 

President-Elect Donald Trump, who coincidentally landed at John Glenn Airport in Columbus, Ohio at roughly the same time as Glenn's passing was announced, described him as a 'great American hero'.

The passing of [John Glenn] to me he was a great American hero, a truly great American hero. I met him on two separate occasions. Liked him, always liked him. But he was indeed an American hero.

'This was an honor for me to be here today. Thank you all very much.'

Later at his victory rally tour event in Ohio, Trump lavished praised on the former Senator and pioneering astronaut.

Flags at the US Capitol have been lowered to half-staff to honor the former Astronaut, and US Senator John Glenn, who passed away today at the age of 95

Flags fly at half-mast outside the John & Annie Glenn Museum in New Concord, Ohio on Thursday evening 

'When Pearl Harbor was attacked one man who immediately enlisted to defend his country was John Glenn. For the next seven decades he devoted his life to serving the American people, which he did from the cockpit of his bullet-riddled fighter jet. Tough times. In the weightless silence of his Mercury spacecraft,' said Trump.

'Our nation mourns the passing of one of our great heroes. He was a giant among men and a true American legend who inspired generations of explorers and dreamers and we will honor his legacy by continuing to push new frontiers in science, technology, and space.' 

President Barack Obama said: 'The last of America's first astronauts has left us, but propelled by their example we know that our future here on Earth compels us to keep reaching for the heavens.' 

Godspeed: Nasa led tributes to John Glenn - 'a true American hero'

During World War II, he flew missions in the South Pacific, where he took part in combat as a Marine Corps pilot.

Glenn also did two tours of combat duty in the Korean War.

He flew a total of 149 combat missions in those two wars, earning him numerous citations and medals for valor.

Following his career in the military, Glenn passed rigorous requirement exams to become an astronaut for NASA.

Space travel is at the frontier of my profession. It is going to be accomplished, and I want to be in on it. There is also an element of simple duty involved. I am convinced that I have something to give this project. 
-Glenn in 1959 interview 

'Godspeed, John Glenn,' fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter radioed just before 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 February 20, 1962, flight, Glenn was 40 years old.

With the all-business phrase, 'Roger, the clock is operating, we're underway,' Glenn radioed to Earth as he started his 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds in space. 

Years later, he explained he said that because he didn't feel like he had lifted off and it was the only way he knew he had launched.

During the flight, Glenn uttered a phrase that he would repeat frequently throughout life: 'Zero G, and I feel fine.'

He said in an interview 50 years after that historic mission: 'It still seems so vivid to me. I still can sort of pseudo feel some of those same sensations I had back in those days during launch and all.'

Glenn said he was often asked if he was afraid, and he replied, 'If you are talking about fear that overcomes what you are supposed to do, no. You've trained very hard for those flights.'

Glenn looks into a Celestial Training Device globe at the Aeromedical Laboratory at Cape Canaveral in February 1962 shortly before his trip into space, which lasted just five hours

Glenn in his final photo outside the spaceship before going into space at the age of 40 on February 20, 1962 (above)

Glenn inspects the Friendship 7 with President John F. Kennedy on February 23, 1962 (above)  shortly after returning to Earth after he orbited the Earth three times

Glenn back Cape Canaveral one year after his famed mission in May 1963 (above) to perform a test in the telemetry control room aboard the NASA tracking ship, the Coastal Sentry


When John Glenn blasted off from cape Canaveral atop an Atlas rocket in 1962, he lifted the hopes of a nation. 

And when his Friendship 7 spacecraft splashed down a few hours later, the first American to orbit the Earth reminded us that with courage and a spirit of discovery there's no limit to the heights we can reach together. 

With John's passing, our nation has lost an icon and Michelle and I have lost a  friend. 

John spent his life breaking barriers, from defending our freedom as a decorated Marine Corps fighter pilot in World War II and Korea, to setting a transcontinental speed record, to becoming, at age 77, the oldest human to touch the stars. 

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.

Today, the people of Ohio remember a devoted public servant who represented his fellow Buckeyes in the U.S. Senate for a quarter century and who fought to keep America a leader in science and technology. 

Our thoughts are with his beloved wife Annie, their children John and Carolyn and the entire Glenn family. 

The last of America's first astronauts has left us, but propelled by their example we know that our future here on Earth compels us to keep reaching for the heavens. 

On behalf of a grateful nation, Godspeed John Glenn.

Glenn's ride in the cramped Friendship 7 capsule had its scary moments, however. 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. 

Glenn in later years regaled crowds with stories of NASA's testing of would-be astronauts, from psychological tests - come with 20 answers to the open-ended question 'I am' - to surviving spinning that pushed 16 times normal gravity against his body, popping blood vessels.

But it wasn't nearly as bad as coming to Cape Canaveral to see the first unmanned rocket test.

We are placed here with certain talents and capabilities. It is up to each of us to use those talents and capabilities as best you can. If you do that, I think there is a power greater than any of us that will place the opportunities in our way, and if we use our talents properly, we will be living the kind of life we should live.
-Glenn at a 1959 NASA press conference 

'We're watching this thing go up and up and up ... and all at once it blew up right over us, and that was our introduction to the Atlas,' Glenn said in 2011. 

'We looked at each other and wanted to have a meeting with the engineers in the morning.'

In 1959, Glenn wrote in Life magazine: 'Space travel is at the frontier of my profession. It is going to be accomplished, and I want to be in on it. There is also an element of simple duty involved. I am convinced that I have something to give this project.'

That sense of duty was instilled at an early age. Glenn was born July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio, and grew up in New Concord, Ohio, with the nickname 'Bud.' 

He joined the town band as a trumpeter at age 10 and accompanied his father one Memorial Day in an echoing version of 'Taps.' 

In his 1999 memoir, Glenn wrote 'that feeling sums up my childhood. It formed my beliefs and my sense of responsibility. Everything that came after that just came naturally.'

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. 

Last June, at a ceremony renaming the Columbus airport for him, Glenn recalled imploring his parents to take him to that airport to look at planes whenever they passed through the city: 'It was something I was fascinated with.' 

He piloted his own private plane until age 90. 

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 8 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 tickertape parade. He got another after his flight on Friendship 7.

That mission also introduced Glenn to politics. He addressed a joint session of Congress, and dined at the White House. He became friends with President Kennedy and ally and friend of his brother, Robert. 

The Kennedys urged him to enter politics, and after a difficult few starts he did.

Glenn spent 24 years in the U.S. Senate, representing Ohio longer than any other senator in the state's history. 

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.'

Glenn began a long political career after leaving the space program and even ran in the Democratic primary to be president in 1984 (above)

The crew of the Shuttle Discovery preparing the board the spaceship before taking off into space in 1998 ( l to r: Scott Parazynski, Stephen Robinson, Pilot Steve Lindsey, Chiaki Mukai, Pedro Duque, Glenn and Commander Curt Brown)

Glenn gets a hand from technicians moments before boarding the US space shuttle Discovery on October 9, 1998 (above)

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 a news conference from space, Glenn said 'to look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is to me impossible.'

NASA tailored a series of geriatric-reaction experiments to create a scientific purpose for Glenn's mission, but there was more to it than that: a revival of the excitement of the earliest days of the space race, a public relations bonanza and the gift of a lifetime.

'America owed John Glenn a second flight,' NASA Administrator Dan Goldin said.

Glenn would later write that when he mentioned the idea of going back into space to his wife, Annie, she responded: 'Over my dead body.'

Glenn and his crewmates flew 3.6 million miles, compared with 75,000 miles aboard Friendship 7.

It still seems so vivid to me. I still can sort of pseudo feel some of those same sensations I had back in those days during launch and all. 
-Glenn describing his first trip to space on the 50th anniversary of his orbiting the Earth 

Shortly before he ran for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination, a new generation was introduced to astronaut Glenn with the film adaptation of Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff.

He was portrayed as the ultimate straight arrow amid a group of hard-partying astronauts.

Glenn said in 2011: 'I don't think any of us cared for the movie The Right Stuff; I know I didn't.'

Glenn was unable to capitalize on the publicity, though, and his poorly organized campaign was short-lived. 

He dropped out of the race with his campaign $2.5 million in the red - a debt that lingered even after he retired from the Senate in 1999.

He later joked that except for going into debt, humiliating his family and gaining 16 pounds, running for president was a good experience.

Glenn generally steered clear of campaigns after that, saying he didn't want to mix politics with his second space flight. He sat out the Senate race to succeed him - he was hundreds of miles above Earth on Election Day — and largely was quiet in the 2000 presidential race.

Glenn and his wife Annie remained active in the American space program even in their later years, seen above at the Kennedy Space Center before the crew of the Shuttle Discovery prepared to fly to Johnson Space Center in Houston before he went into space in 1998 (above)

Glenn gives the thumbs up as he rides in an open car with his wife Annie during a ticker tape parade, his third, in November 1998 after returning from space aboard Discovery (above)

Glenn and his wife Annie get a look at the Friendship 7 in 2002 at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC (above)

He first ran for the Senate in 1964 but left the race when he suffered a concussion after slipping in the bathroom and hit his head on the tub.

He tried again in 1970 but was defeated in the primary by Howard Metzenbaum, who later lost the general election to Robert Taft Jr. It was the start of a complex relationship with Metzenbaum, whom he later joined in the Senate.

For the next four years, Glenn devoted his attention to business and investments that made him a multimillionaire. 

I don't remember the first time I told Annie I loved her, or the first time she told me. It was just something we both knew.
-Glenn on wife Annie, who he first met as a toddler 

He had joined the board of Royal Crown Cola after the aborted 1964 campaign, and was president of Royal Crown International from 1967 to 1969. 

In the early 1970s, he remained with Royal Crown and invested in a chain of Holiday Inns.

In 1974, Glenn ran against Metzenbaum in what turned into a bitter primary and won the election. He eventually made peace with Metzenbaum, who won election to the Senate in 1976.

Glenn set a record in 1980 by winning re-election with a 1.6-million vote margin.

He became an expert on nuclear weaponry and was the Senate's most dogged advocate of non-proliferation. He was the leading supporter of the B-1 bomber when many in Congress doubted the need for it. 

As chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, he turned a microscope on waste and fraud in the federal bureaucracy.

Glenn said the lowest point of his life was 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 Glenn of serious wrongdoing but said he 'exercised poor judgment.'

The episode was the only brush with scandal in his long public career and didn't diminish his popularity in Ohio.

Glenn joked that the only astronaut he was envious of was his fellow Ohioan: Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.

'I've been very fortunate to have a lot of great experiences in my life and I'm thankful for them,' he said in 2012.

Glenn continued to be active in politics even after stepping down from the Senate, and supported Hillary Clinton in her 2008 bid for the White House (above)

Neil Armstrong (left)  the first man to walk on the moon, John Glenn Jr. (center) the first American to orbit earth, and James Lovell (right) commander of Apollo 13 at a 2008 gathering in celebration of NASA's 50th anniversary

In 2012 Glenn was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama (above)

In 1943, Glenn married his childhood sweetheart, Anna Margaret Castor. 

They met when they were toddlers, and when she had mumps as a teenager he came to her house, cut a hole in her bedroom window screen, and passed her a radio to keep her company, a friend recounted.

'I don't remember the first time I told Annie I loved her, or the first time she told me,' Glenn would write in his memoir. 

'It was just something we both knew.'

He bought her a diamond engagement ring in 1942 for $125. It's never been replaced.

Shortly after they were married, Glenn was shipped off to the South Pacific, and finding it difficult to leave told Annie: 'I’m just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum.'

Since that day Annie has always carried a pack of gum in her purse. 

We lost a great pioneer of air and space: Tributes pour in for astronaut-turned-Senator and back 

President-Elect Donald Trump: Today we lost a great pioneer of air and space in John Glenn. He was a hero and inspired generations of future explorers. He will be missed.

Former President George HW Bush: Throughout his life, when the country he served with such devotion summoned its patriots into the breach, John Glenn always seemed to lead the way. As  Marine fighter pilot in World War II and Korea, he helped America turn back a rising tide of tyranny. By his inspirational leadership spearheading our space program, John helped push back the horizon of discovery. And by his long and able service in the United States Senate, John Glenn helped bring hope and opportunity not only to his beloved Ohio - but to every corner America as well. Few risked more for, or showed greater dedication to, our nation, and Barbara and join our countrymen in extending our most sincere condolences to his widow Annie and the extended Glenn family.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden: Glenn's extraordinary courage, intellect, patriotism and humanity were the hallmarks of a life of greatness. His missions have helped make possible everything our space program has since achieved and the human missions to an asteroid and Mars that we are striving toward now.

US House Speaker Paul Ryan: May his memory live on every time we look up at the stars.

US Senator Bill Nelson, who also flew in space: On top of paving the way for the rest of us, he was also a first-class gentleman and an unabashed patriot

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: Today our nation bids farewell to one of the most iconic figures of the 20th Century. John Glenn said his childhood was like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, but his life was anything but typical.

Roger Launius, National Air and Space Museum associate director and historian:  You look at John Glenn and his is really a life of service and we don't see enough of that. He is an honest-to-God hero in all kinds of ways.

Ohio Governor John Kasich: John Glenn is, and always will be, Ohio's ultimate hometown hero, and his passing today is an occasion for all of us to grieve. ... Though he soared deep into space and to the heights of Capitol Hill, his heart never strayed from his steadfast Ohio roots. Godspeed, John Glenn! 

Ohio State President Michael Drake: The Ohio State University community deeply mourns the loss of John Glenn, Ohio's consummate public servant and a true American hero. He leaves an undiminished legacy as one of the great people of our time.

US Senator Sherrod Brown: What made John Glenn a great senator was the same quality that made him a great astronaut and an iconic American hero: He saw enormous untapped potential in the nation he loved and he had faith that America could overcome any challenge.

Ohio Senator Rob Portman: John Glenn was an American hero. He flew 149 combat missions in two wars. He was the first American to orbit the Earth, and the longest-serving United States Senator in Ohio history.

Hero: Astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson, praised Glenn's life as a war hero, astronaut, senator and husband

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: John Glenn's enduring commitment to public service, devoted patriotism, and tremendous courage embody the very best of the American spirit. John's passionate belief that everyone has an obligation to serve has inspired many people across America to contribute to their communities.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper: No one in this country epitomized the nobility and patriotism of public service more than Ohio's John Glenn. 

God speed: Tom Hanks, who famously portrayed Commander Jim Lovell in Apollo 13, led the celebrity tributes for Glenn 

With a mighty shriek of its engines, an Atlas missile blasted off today: Excerpts of The Associated Press's original report from 1962  

With a mighty shriek of its engines, an Atlas missile blasted off today to boost astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. into a journey around the Earth.

The huge missile spilled a torrent of flame over the launching pad. Ponderously the 125-ton monster rose slowly from the Earth to start Glenn towards his intended rendezvous with stars.

This first attempt to put an American astronaut into orbit came after a series of frustrating postponements dating back to Dec. 20. Technical troubles involving the Atlas guidance system, a faulty respiration sensor in Glenn's helmet, a broken bolt on the capsule hatch cover and a fueling problem today delayed the launching past its intended 7:30 a.m. time.

As the rocket was ignited great billows of smoke poured out of the bottom of the tall Atlas, shot through with flashes of brilliant light. Jetting from the bottom was a long tongue of bright orange flame, looking much like a Fourth of July fireworks flare. Two small rocket engines, used for minor course corrections, blazed brightly on either side of the long pencil-like silver rocket.

In seconds a great roar barreled across the Cape and struck the ears of reporters and other observers nearly two miles away.

Less than two minutes after blastoff, Glenn reported all systems in the spaceship were 'go.' He confirmed booster engine cutoff about two minutes after liftoff and was reading his instruments, reporting back on cabin-pressure and the gradual buildup of the pressures of gravity that were forcing him back into his contour seat.

Shortly before three minutes he reported the escape tower separation and the space ship was reported climbing well on its trajectory. Below, a high altitude observation plane traced a lazy 'S' contrail to the south of the climbing missile.

As the rocket soared on toward orbit Glenn reported "I feel fine." And that his view was tremendous.

Mercury Control Center, receiving a steady stream of reports, said that when the Atlas separated from the capsule about five minutes after launch, Glenn reported it was a "beautiful sight to see."

At 9:56 a.m. Glenn was reported in contact with Mercury Tracking Station at Bermuda. Glenn reported from his space ship that he saw a very large cloud pattern near the Cape Canaveral area.

The space ship was tilted into its proper altitude the Mercury Control Center expected to confirm an orbit momentarily. The exact time of launch was 9:47 a.m. (EST).

Glenn's voice piped into the public address system at the press site came over loud and clear as he said 'Roger, the scope is retracting. Roger, the scope is retracted. The light is out.'

Mercury Control said that the booster engine cut off 503 miles east of Cape Canaveral at an altitude of 100 miles. Glenn's speed at the time was 17,500 miles an hour and his orbit would range from a low point of 100 miles to a high point of 160 miles. It was estimated that it would take him 99 minutes to complete one orbit of the Earth, but Mercury Control said these figures were subject to reevaluation.

The tape recording of Glenn's voice just after liftoff was played at the press center and the Mercury Control Center expected to confirm an orbit momentarily.


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