“Zero G, and I feel fine.”
—John Glenn, upon achieving orbit
John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth and the last surviving original Mercury astronaut, servant of his state, his country, and his planet, died today at the Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus, OH. He was 95. He is survived by his wife, Annie Glenn as well as two children and two grandchildren.
Glenn was born in 1921 to John Herschel Glenn, Sr., and Teresa Glenn. He grew up in the town of New Concord, OH, where he is today hailed as a hero, with the local high school named in his honor. He attended Muskingum College in the area, but did not complete his senior year, dropping out after Pearl Harbor to enlist in the Army Air Corps where he served during World War II and the Korean War. Upon his historic spaceflight in 1962, Glenn was finally granted his Bachelor of Science degree by Muskingum.
Before his historic spaceflight, Glenn became the first pilot to average supersonic speed in a transcontinental flight, flying a jet from Los Angeles to New York in three hours and 23 minutes. Following extensive testing and three years of training, Glenn was selected for the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission aboard Friendship 7, where he would be the third American in space and the first American to orbit the planet.
Glenn was lauded as an American hero upon his return to Earth. However, later in 1962, he gave a controversial testimony to the House Space Committee arguing against NASA enlisting female astronauts. Despite this, some purport that Glenn’s praise of Judith Resnik, Challenger astronaut, at her 1986 funeral would indicate a later change of opinion.
After his resignation from NASA in 1964, Glenn pursued a political career, serving Ohio as Senator for four terms and being considered as a Vice Presidential candidate for Jimmy Carter.
In 1998, John Glenn became the oldest person ever in space at 77 following years of campaigning, believing that this unprecedented mission, returning the same person to orbit after 36 years, would have immense scientific benefit, particularly in regard to research on the effects of zero-G on the elderly.
Glenn also founded Ohio State University’s John Glenn Institute for Public Policy, which became the John Glenn College of Public Affairs last year.
It is clear that what John Glenn learned in space benefitted all of humanity, but one of his most profound statements was acquired here on Earth:
“If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet, it’s that the happiest and most fulfilled people I’ve known are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound than merely their own self-interest.”