John Glenn

John Herschel Glenn Jr. (born July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio) is a former astronaut who became the third person and first American to orbit the Earth, and later, United States Senator. Glenn began his career as a Marine Corps fighter pilot before joining NASA’s Mercury program, NASA’s original astronaut group. He orbited the Earth aboard Friendship 7 in 1962. After retiring from NASA, he ran as a Democrat and represented the state of Ohio in the United States Senate from 1974 to 1999.

He was honored with a Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978 and was inducted into the Astronauts Hall of Fame in 1990. In 1998 he became the oldest person to fly in space and the only person to fly on both the first and the most recent US space program (Mercury and Shuttle programs) when, at the age of 77, he flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-95). Glenn and M. Scott Carpenter are the last surviving members of the Mercury Seven as of February 2009.

NASA

John Herschel Glenn Jr.
NASA Astronaut
Born July 18, 1921
Other occupation Test pilot
Rank Colonel, USMC
Time in space 9d 02h 39 m
Selection 1959 NASA Group
Missions Mercury-Atlas 6, STS-95
Mission insignia

Medical debriefing aboard USS Randolph (CVS-15). The debriefing team for Maj. Glenn (center) was led by Cmdr. Seldon C. “Smokey” Dunn, USN MC (far right w/EKG in hands).

In April 1959, Glenn was assigned to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as one of the original group of Mercury astronauts for the Mercury Project. During this time, he remained an officer in the Marine Corps. He became the third American in space and the first to orbit the Earth, aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962, on the “Mercury Atlas 6” mission, circling the globe three times during a flight lasting 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds. During the mission there was concern that his heat shield had failed and that his craft would burn up on re-entry but he made his splash down safely. Glenn was celebrated as a national hero, and received a ticker-tape parade reminiscent of Lindbergh. His fame and political attributes were noted by the Kennedys, and he became a personal friend of the Kennedy family.

Glenn resigned from NASA six weeks after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to run for office in his home state of Ohio. In 1965, Glenn retired as a Colonel from the USMC and entered the business world as an executive for Royal Crown Cola. He reentered politics later on. Some accounts of Glenn’s years at NASA suggest that Glenn was prevented from flying in Gemini or Apollo missions, either by President Kennedy, himself, or by NASA management, on the grounds that the subsequent loss of a national hero of such stature would seriously harm or even end the manned space program. Yet Glenn resigned from the astronaut corps on January 30, 1964, well before even the first Gemini crew was assigned.

Three decades later, after serving 24 years in the Senate, Glenn lifted off for a second space flight on October 29, 1998, on Space Shuttle Discovery‘s STS-95, in order to study the effects of space flight on the elderly. At age 77, Glenn became the oldest person ever to go into space. Glenn’s participation in the nine-day mission was criticized by some in the space community as a junket for a politician. Others noted that Glenn’s flight offered valuable research on weightlessness and other aspects of space flight on the same person at two points in life thirty-six years apart — by far the longest interval between space flights by the same person. Upon the safe return of the STS-95 crew, Glenn (and his crewmates) received another ticker-tape parade, making him the ninth (and, as of 2007, latest) person to have ever received multiple ticker-tape parades in his lifetime (as opposed to that of a sports team).

Glenn’s autographed EKG trace.
Best regards and many thanks
for all the help, “Smokey” —
John H. Glenn Jr
Mercury Astronaut
a good date — 20 Feb 62

Glenn vehemently opposed the sending of Dennis Tito, the world’s first space tourist, to the International Space Station on the grounds that Tito’s trip served no scientific purpose.

The NASA John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland, Ohio is named after him. Also, Senator John Glenn Highway runs along a stretch of I-480 (Ohio) across from the NASA Glenn Research Center. Colonel Glenn Highway, which runs by Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Wright State University near Dayton, Ohio, and John Glenn High School in his hometown of New Concord, Ohio were named for him as well.

Life in politics

In 1964, John Glenn announced that he was resigning from the space program to run against incumbent Senator Stephen M. Young in the Democratic primary, but he was forced to withdraw when he hit his head on a bathtub. He sustained a concussion and injured his inner ear. Recovery left him unable to campaign at that time.

Glenn remained close to the Kennedy family and was with Sen. Robert F. Kennedy when Kennedy was assassinated.

In 1970, Glenn contested for the Democratic nomination for U. S. Senate; Glenn was defeated in the primary by fellow Democrat Howard Metzenbaum, who went on to lose the general election race to Robert Taft Jr. In the bitterly-fought 1974 Democratic primary rematch, Glenn defeated Metzenbaum, who had earlier been appointed by Ohio governor John J. Gilligan to fill out the Senate term of William B. Saxbe, who had resigned to become U. S. attorney general. Metzenbaum was running to retain the seat to which he had been appointed. In the 1974 general election, Glenn defeated Republican Mayor of Cleveland, Ralph Perk, beginning a Senate career that would continue until 1999. In 1980, Glenn won re-election to the seat, defeating Republican challenger Jim Betts. In 1986, Glenn defeated challenger U.S. Representative Tom Kindness.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Glenn and Metzenbaum (who was elected to the Senate in 1976) had strained relations, even though they were both from the same party and the same state. There was a thaw in 1983 when Metzenbaum endorsed Glenn for president, and in 1988, in response to a charge by Metzenbaum’s opponent George Voinovich that Metzenbaum was soft on child pornography, Glenn appeared in a television ad in support of Metzenbaum.

In 1990, Glenn was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Glenn was one of the five U. S. Senators caught up with Lincoln Savings and the Keating Five Scandal after accepting a $200,000 contribution from Charles Keating. Glenn and Republican Senator John McCain were the only Senators exonerated. The Senate Commission found that Glenn had exercised “poor judgment.” The association of his name with the scandal gave Republicans hope that he would be vulnerable in the 1992 campaign. Instead, Glenn handily defeated Lieutenant Governor R. Michael DeWine to keep his seat. This 1992 re-election victory was the last time a Democrat won a statewide race in Ohio until 2006; DeWine later won Metzenbaum’s seat upon his retirement.

In 1998, Glenn declined to run for re-election. The Democratic party chose Mary Boyle to replace him, but she was defeated by then-Ohio Gov. George Voinovich.

Glenn made a bid to run as Vice President with Jimmy Carter in 1976, but Carter selected Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. Glenn also mounted a bid to be the 1984 Democratic Presidential candidate. Early on, Glenn polled well, coming in a strong second to Mondale. It was also surmised that he would be aided by the almost-simultaneous release of The Right Stuff, a film about the original seven Mercury astronauts in which it was generally agreed that Glenn’s character was portrayed in an appealing manner. However, Glenn thought it would be bad form to capitalize on this kind of publicity, and didn’t make much of these achievements in the period leading up to the Iowa caucuses. Media attention turned to Mondale, Gary Hart, and Jesse Jackson, and by the time his campaign started playing up The Right Stuff for the New Hampshire primary, it was already too late. His failed 1984 presidential bid left Glenn with over $3 million in campaign debt that took over 20 years to pay off.

During his time in the Senate, he was chief author of the 1978 Nonproliferation Act, served as chairman of the Committee on Governmental Affairs from 1987 until 1995, sat on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees and the Special Committee on Aging. Once Republicans regained control of the Senate, Glenn also served as the ranking minority member on a special Senate investigative committee chaired by Tennessee senator Fred Dalton Thompson that looked into alleged illegal donations by China to U.S. political campaigns for the 1996 election. There was considerable acrimony between the two very high-profile senators during the life of this committee, which reached a level of public disagreement between the five leaders of a Congressional committee seldom seen in recent years.

In 2004 John Glenn was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institute at a presentation in Columbus.

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