John Glenn was an American icon. He was truly one of the most accomplished men America has ever known. His legacy will live on forever. Godspeed John Glenn…

Glenn was one of America’s first and most celebrated astronauts and had a long public career that included two space flights, 24 years as a U.S. Senator from Ohio, and a run for the presidency. He was born July 18, 1921.

Glenn will go down in history as the first American to orbit the earth, one of the original seven Mercury astronauts. On Feb. 20, 1962, he climbed into his Friendship 7 capsule, lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, circled the earth three times in five hours — and became a national hero.

“Zero-G and I feel fine,” he said from his spacecraft. “Man, that view is tremendous.”

It was a troubled world he saw from orbit. The Cold War was at its most chilling. The Soviet Union had launched the first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957, and the first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961. The United States was anxious to catch up.

“We hadn’t really thought that any nation could even touch us technically,” Glenn said in a 1998 interview with ABC News. “And all at once, here was this bunch of Soviets over there, for heaven’s sake, outdoing the United States of America in technical and scientific things.”

Ohio Native, Marine Corps Pilot

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Glenn Herschel Glenn Jr. was born in 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio, and grew up in nearby New Concord, the son of a plumber and a former teacher. He married his childhood sweetheart, Annie Castor, and studied at nearby Muskingum College.

He found his calling in the air. In World War II he served as a Marine Corps pilot, flying 59 combat missions, and 90 more in the Korean War. He rose in the ranks as a test pilot.

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In 1957, he set a transcontinental speed record from Los Angeles to New York, flying across the country in 3 hours and 23 minutes. In 1959, when the newly-formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration went looking for its first astronauts, it looked at military test pilots. Glenn was in the select group of seven men who were chosen.

The Mercury Seven

Three weeks later President John F. Kennedy, looking for something at which America could beat the Soviets, committed the United States to landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Glenn later said he wondered at the time how NASA would pull it off. After one more 15-minute test — in which astronaut Gus Grissom flew safely but nearly drowned when his spacecraft sank in the Atlantic after spashdown — it fell to Glenn to get America into orbit.

It was a fearsome assignment. The Atlas rocket that would launch him was famously unreliable. Glenn would make three orbits of the earth. His launch was scheduled and scrubbed no fewer than ten times in four months.

And then it was launch day — Feb. 20, 1962. Glenn woke early, had breakfast, put on his silver pressure suit, and climbed into Friendship 7 before dawn. The countdown moved toward zero. In the control center Glenn’s fellow astronaut, Scott Carpenter, keyed a microphone and said, “Godspeed, John Glenn.”

Glenn did not hear him; Carpenter was not on his radio link. Instead, he felt a jolt as the rocket left the launch pad.

“Roger, liftoff, and the clock is running. We’re under way.”

The Atlas did not fail. Five minutes later he was in orbit.

The Flight of Friendship 7

The nation hung on every moment of his flight — one man, alone in the void, in a capsule so small (six feet in diameter at the base) that he could not stretch out his arms. He reported that weightlessness was very pleasant. He marveled at the “fireflies” — later determined to be flecks of frost — that drifted away from Friendship 7 when he rapped on the hull of the spacecraft.

Glenn was having a wonderful time. But then there was trouble. As he began his second orbit, Mission Control received a signal suggesting that the heat shield, designed to prevent the capsule from burning up during reentry, had come loose. Worried controllers feared they might lose Glenn. They ordered him not to jettison the capsule’s retro rockets, strapped on over the heat shield, after he fired them to descend from orbit.

John Glenn, First American to Orbit the Earth

The outside of the capsule heated to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit as the atmosphere slowed it. Glenn watched as chunks of debris flew past the window and wondered whether it was the retro pack — or the heat shield breaking up.

It held. He splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean, and was greeted as perhaps America’s greatest hero since Charles Lindbergh.

Crowds mobbed him at a ticker tape parade in New York. President Kennedy, who saw Glenn’s star power, welcomed him at the White House. He returned to work at NASA and lobbied for another flight, but the Kennedy administration had quietly let his bosses know he was too much of a national icon to risk in space again. –ABC News

More than three decades later, at 77 and about to retire as a senator, Glenn lifted off on the space shuttle Discovery on October 29, 1998, becoming the oldest person ever to fly in space.

His participation was designed to study the effect of space flight on the elderly. Once again, he – and his crewmates – received a ticker-tape parade on their safe return.

For the 50th anniversary of his historic flight on Feb. 20, 2012, Glenn was feted with a number of events, including a dinner with approximately 125 surviving veterans of NASA’s Project Mercury.

The quintessential national hero was born July 18, 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio but moved at age two to New Concord, Ohio where his father operated a plumbing business.

Years later he would write of his early years, “a boy could not have had a more idyllic early childhood than I did.”

It was in New Concord that he met Annie, his wife of 73 years when both were toddlers and their parents were friendly. In his autobiography, he wrote, “she was a part of my life from the time of my first memory.”

By the time they were in high school, they were a couple and were married April 6, 1943 in New Concord. Annie, who had a long public struggle with a speech disability, wore the $125 engagement ring Glenn bought her in 1942 for the rest of her life.

The couple had two children, John and Carolyn , who survive him, along with his wife.

Glenn, who received a degree in engineering from Muskingum College in New Concord, resigned from the space program in early 1964 to enter politics.

But a fall in the bathtub, when he suffered a concussion and injured his inner ear, delayed his political plans and in early 1965 he became an executive for Royal Crown Cola.

Nine years later, in 1974, he was elected as a Democrat to the US Senate, where he served until 1999. –FOX News


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