John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth and the last surviving member of the original “Mercury Seven” astronauts, passed away today. He was 95.
“John Glenn was a true American hero who served his country with great distinction as a decorated Marine Corps fight pilot and astronaut, as well as a United States Senator from the great state of Ohio,” said Jim Kidrick, President and CEO of the San Diego Air & Space Museum. “As a member of the International Air & Space Hall of Fame, he will always hold a special place at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.”
John Herschel Glenn, Jr. was born July 18, 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio. In 1942, Glenn graduated with a science degree in engineering from Muskigum College, and obtained his commission in the U.S. Marine Corps through the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in 1943. After advanced training, Glenn joined Marine Fighter Squadron 155 and spent a year flying F-4U fighters on 59 combat missions in the Marshall Islands.
From 1949 to 1950, he was an instructor in advanced flight training in Corpus Christi, Texas, and at amphibious warfare training in Virginia. While on duty in Korea, he flew 63 missions with Marine Fighter Squadron 311 and 27 missions as an exchange pilot with the Air Force. In the last nine days of fighting in Korea, he downed three MiG aircraft in combat along the Yalu River.
After Korea, Glenn attended the Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland, and was assigned to the Fighter Design branch of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington. During this time, he also attended the University of Maryland. In 1957, he set a speed record from Los Angeles to New York in an F-8U, the first transcontinental flight to maintain a supersonic speed average.
Glenn was chosen with the first group of astronauts in 1959. He served as backup pilot for Alan Shepard before his own flight on February 20, 1962. In Friendship 7, Glenn became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, making three orbits in 4 hours and 56 minutes, traveling up to 17,545 miles per hour.
In January 1963, Glenn was assigned to Project Apollo planning, specializing in the design and development of the spacecraft and flight control systems. He retired from the Marine Corps and from NASA in 1964 to go into private business and enter politics.
He was elected a U.S. Senator from Ohio in 1974. On February 20, 1997, the 30th anniversary of his Mercury flight, Glenn announced that he would retire from the Senate. A year later, NASA invited him to rejoin the space program, and on October 29, 1998, he became the oldest human ever to venture into space at age 77 as a Payload Specialist on Discovery mission STS-95.
The highly-decorated Glenn was the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Commendation, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, China Service Medal, Navy Occupation Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Korea Medal, South Korea Presidential Unit Citation, Congressional Gold Medal, Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
Glenn was enshrined in the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum in 1968.