Colonel John Herschel Glenn Jr. (July 18, 1921 – December 8, 2016) was a United States Marine Corps aviator, engineer, astronaut, and United States Senator from Ohio. In 1962, he became the first American to orbit the Earth, circling it three times.

Before joining NASA, Glenn was a distinguished fighter pilot in World War II, China and Korea. He shot down three MiG-15 aircraft, and was awarded six Distinguished Flying Crosses and eighteen Air Medals. In 1957, he made the first supersonic transcontinental flight across the United States. His on-board camera took the first continuous, panoramic photograph of the United States.

He was one of the Mercury Seven, military test pilots selected in 1959 by NASA as the United States' first astronauts. On February 20, 1962, Glenn flew the Friendship 7 mission, becoming the first American to orbit the Earth, and the fifth person and third American in space. He received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 1962 and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978, was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1990, and was the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven.

Glenn resigned from NASA in January 1964. He planned to run for a U.S. Senate seat from Ohio, but an injury in February 1964 forced his withdrawal. He retired from the Marine Corps the following year. He lost a close primary election in 1970. A member of the Democratic Party, Glenn first won election to the Senate in 1974 and served for 24 years until January 1999. In 1998, while still a sitting Senator, Glenn became the oldest person to fly in space as a crew member of the Discovery space shuttle and the only person to fly in both the Mercury and Space Shuttle programs. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

Early life and education

John Herschel Glenn Jr. was born on July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio, the son of John Herschel Glenn Sr., who worked for a plumbing firm, and Clara Teresa née Sproat, a teacher.[5][6][7] His parents had married shortly before his father, a member of the American Expeditionary Force, left for the Western Front during World War I. The family moved to New Concord, Ohio, soon after his birth, and his father started his own business, the Glenn Plumbing Company.[8][9] He was only a toddler when he met Anna Margaret (Annie) Castor, who would later become his wife. The two would not be able to recall a time when they did not know each other.[8] He took his first flight in an airplane with his father when he was eight years old. He became fascinated by flight, and built model airplanes from balsa wood kits.[10] Along with his adopted sister Jean,[8] he attended New Concord Elementary School.[11] He washed cars and sold rhubarb to earn money to buy a bicycle, after which he took a job delivering The Columbus Dispatch newspaper.[12] He was a member of the Ohio Rangers, an organization similar to the Cub Scouts; Annie was a Girl Scout.[13] His boyhood home in New Concord has been restored as a historic house museum and education center.[14]

Glenn attended New Concord High School, where he played on the varsity football team as a center and linebacker. He also made the varsity basketball and tennis teams, and was involved with Hi-Y, a junior branch of the YMCA.[15] After graduating in 1939, Glenn entered Muskingum College, where he studied engineering,[16] and Annie majored in music, with minors in secretarial studies and physical education, as she was on the swimming and volleyball teams.[17] Glenn was a member of the Stag Club fraternity there,[18] and played on the football team.[17] He earned a private pilot license under the Civilian Pilot Training Program in 1941,[19] gaining credit in his physics course,[16] since the course included aerodynamics, combustion and heat transfer.[19] He did not complete his senior year in residence or take a proficiency exam, both required by the school for its Bachelor of Science degree. Muskingum awarded his degree in 1962, after Glenn's Mercury space flight.[20] Glenn married Annie in a Presbyterian ceremony at College Drive Church in Columbus, Ohio, on April 6, 1943.[21] They had two children—John David and Carolyn Ann—and two grandchildren,[22] and remained married for 73 years until his death.[23]

Military career

World War II

When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II, Glenn quit college to voluntarily enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps.[24] Never called to duty, he enlisted as a U.S. Navy aviation cadet in March 1942. Glenn attended the University of Iowa in Iowa City for pre-flight training and continued at Naval Air Station Olathe in Kansas for primary training, where he made his first solo flight in a military aircraft. During advanced training at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, he accepted an offer to transfer to the U.S. Marine Corps.[25]

Having completed his flight training in March 1943, Glenn was commissioned as a second lieutenant. After advanced training at Camp Kearny, California, he was assigned to Marine Squadron VMJ-353, which flew R4D transport planes from there.[26] Also at Camp Kearny there was a fighter squadron, VMO-155, which flew the Grumman F4F Wildcat. Glenn approached the squadron's commander, Major J. P. Haines, who suggested that he could put in for a transfer. This was approved, and Glenn was posted to VMO-155 on July 2, 1943. Two days later, the squadron moved to Marine Corps Air Station El Centro in California.[27] The Wildcat was obsolete by this time, and VMO-155 re-equipped with the F4U Corsair in September 1943.[28] He was promoted to first lieutenant in October 1943, and shipped out to Hawaii in January 1944.[26] It was intended that VMO-155 would move to the Marshall Islands but this was delayed, and on February 21 it moved to Midway Atoll and became part of the garrison. This had been the site of the Battle of Midway in 1942, but was a backwater by this time.[29] VMO-155 moved to the Marshall Islands in June 1944, and flew 57 combat missions in the area.[26][30] He received two Distinguished Flying Crosses and ten Air Medals.[31][32]

Glenn returned to the United States at the end of his one-year tour of duty in February 1945, and was assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina and then to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. He was promoted to captain in July 1945, shortly before the end of the war in the Pacific, but was uncertain of securing a regular commission in the Marine Corps. He was ordered back to Cherry Point, where he joined VMF-913, another Corsair squadron, and learned that he had qualified for a regular commission.[33][26] In March 1946, he was assigned to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in southern California. He volunteered for service with the occupation in North China, believing that it would be a short tour. He joined VMF-218 (another Corsair squadron), which was based at Nanyuan Field near Beijing, in December 1946,[34] and flew patrol missions until VMF-218 was transferred to Guam in March 1947. He returned home in December 1948.[35][26]

Glenn was re-posted to NAS Corpus Christi, first as a student at the Naval School of All-Weather Flight, and then as a flight instructor.[26] In July 1951, he was sent to the Amphibious Warfare School at Marine Corps Base Quantico in northern Virginia for a six-month course.[36] He then joined the staff of the Commandant, Marine Corps Schools. Given only four hours of flying time per month, he maintained his proficiency (and flight pay) by flying on weekends.[37] He was promoted to major in July 1952.[26]

Korean War

Glenn's silver fighter plane on the tarmac, with a yellow stripe behind the cockpit and a checkered pattern on the tail
Glenn's USAF F-86F, dubbed "MiG Mad Marine", during the Korean War in 1953. The names of his wife and children are also written on the aircraft.

Glenn took a short period of leave during which he moved his family back to New Concord, and after two and a half months of jet training at Cherry Point, Glenn was ordered to South Korea in October 1952, late in the Korean War. [38] Before he set out for Korea in February 1953, he applied for an inter-service exchange position with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to fly the F-86 Sabre jet fighter-interceptor. In preparation, he arranged with Colonel Leon W. Gray to check out the F-86 at Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts.[39] Pending this exchange assignment, Glenn reported to K-3, an airbase in South Korea, on February 3, 1953, and was assigned to VMF-311, one of two Marine fighter squadrons there, as its operations officer.[40] VMF-311, equipped with the F9F Panther jet fighter-bomber, was assigned a variety of missions. Glenn flew his first, a reconnaissance flight, on February 26.[41] He flew 63 combat missions in Korea with VMF-311,[42] and was nicknamed "Magnet Ass" because of his ability to attract enemy flak (an occupational hazard of low-level close air support missions);[43] twice, he returned to base with over 250 holes in his plane.[43][44] He flew for a time with Marine reservist Ted Williams (a future Hall of Fame baseball player with the Boston Red Sox) as his wingman,[45] and also flew with future major general Ralph H. Spanjer.[46]

In June 1953, Glenn's USAF exchange position came through and he reported for duty with the USAF's 25th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, and flew 27 combat missions in the F-86, a much faster aircraft than the F9F Panther, patrolling MiG Alley.[47][48] Combat with a MiG-15, which was faster and better armed still,[49] was regarded as the apogee for a fighter pilot. On the USAF buses that took the pilots out to the airfields before dawn, pilots who had been shot at by a MiG could sit while those who had not had to stand.[50] Glenn later wrote, "Since the days of the Lafayette Escadrille during World War I, pilots have viewed air-to-air combat as the ultimate test not only of their machines but of their own personal determination and flying skills. I was no exception."[51] He hoped to become the second Marine jet flying ace after John F. Bolt. When Glenn complained about there not being any MiGs to shoot at, his USAF squadron mates painted "MiG Mad Marine" on his aircraft.[52] He shot down his first MiG in a dogfight on July 12, 1953, downed a second one on July 19, and a third on July 22 during an aerial engagement in which four Sabres shot down three MiGs. These were the final air victories of the war, which ended with an armistice five days later.[53] For his service in Korea, Glenn received two more Distinguished Flying Crosses and eight more Air Medals.[54][55]

Test pilot

Photo of John Glenn leaning out of a cockpit looking into the distance
John Glenn sitting in the cockpit of a jet aircraft at the U.S. Navy Test Station at Patuxent River, Maryland, 1954.

With combat experience as a fighter pilot, Glenn applied for training as a test pilot while he was still in Korea. He reported to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River in Maryland in January 1954, and graduated in July.[56] [57][58] At Patuxent River he was tutored in physics and math by the future Medal of Honor recipient, James Stockdale.[59] Glenn's first flight test assignment, testing the FJ-3 Fury, nearly killed him when its cockpit depressurized and its oxygen system failed.[60] He also tested the armament of aircraft such as the Vought F7U Cutlass and F8U Crusader.[61] From November 1956 to April 1959, he was assigned to the Fighter Design Branch of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, D.C., and attended the University of Maryland.[62]

On July 16, 1957, he made the first supersonic transcontinental flight.[63] At that time, the transcontinental speed record, held by an Air Force Republic F-84 Thunderjet, was 3 hours 45 minutes and Glenn calculated that an F8U Crusader could do it faster. Since its 586-mile-per-hour (943 km/h) air speed was faster than that of a .45 caliber bullet, Glenn called his project Project Bullet.[64] He flew an F8U Crusader 2,445 miles (3,935 km) from Los Alamitos, California to Floyd Bennett Field in New York City in under ​3 12 hours. The actual time was 3 hours, 23 minutes and 8.3 seconds,[62] averaging supersonic speed despite three in-flight refuelings when speeds dropped below 300 miles per hour (480 km/h). His on-board camera took the first continuous, transcontinental panoramic photograph of the United States.[65][66] He received his fifth Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission,[67] and he was promoted to lieutenant colonel on April 1, 1959.[68] His cross-country flight made him a minor celebrity. A profile piece appeared in The New York Times and he appeared on the television show Name That Tune.[65] He now had nearly 9,000 hours of flying time, including about 3,000 hours in jets.[62]

NASA career


Glenn in a silver spacesuit, with his helmet on and clear visor down
Glenn in his Mercury spacesuit

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite. This shattered American confidence in its technological superiority, creating a wave of anxiety known as the Sputnik crisis. Among his responses, President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the Space Race. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established on October 1, 1958, as a civilian agency to develop space technology. One of its first initiatives was publicly announced on December 17, 1958. This was Project Mercury,[69] which aimed to launch a man into Earth orbit, return him safely to the Earth, and evaluate his capabilities in space.[70]

While Glenn was on duty at Patuxent and in Washington, he read everything he could find about space. His office was asked to send a test pilot to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to make runs on a spaceflight simulator, as part of research by the newly formed NASA into re-entry vehicle shapes. The pilot would also be sent to the Naval Air Development Center in Johnsville, Pennsylvania, and would be subjected to high G-forces in a centrifuge for comparison with data collected in the simulator. His request for the position was granted, and he spent several days at Langley and a week in Johnsville for the testing.[71] NASA asked military-service members to participate in planning the mockup of a spacecraft. Since he had participated in the research at Langley and Johnsville, he was sent to the McDonnell plant in St. Louis as a service adviser to NASA's spacecraft mockup board.[71]

NASA received permission from Eisenhower to recruit its first astronauts from the ranks of military test pilots. The service records of 508 graduates of test pilot schools were obtained from the United States Department of Defense. From these, 110 were found that matched the minimum standards:[72] the candidates had to be younger than 40, possess a bachelor's degree or equivalent and to be 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 m) or less. Only the height requirement was strictly enforced, owing to the size of the Project Mercury spacecraft.[73] This was fortunate for Glenn, who barely met the requirements, as he was near the age cutoff and lacked a science-based degree.[74] The 110 were then split into three groups, with the most promising in the first group.[75] The first group of 35, which included Alan Shepard, assembled at the Pentagon on February 2, 1959. The Navy and Marine Corps officers were welcomed by the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh Burke, and the USAF officers were addressed by the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General Thomas D. White. Both pledged their support to the Space Program, and promised that the careers of volunteers would not be adversely affected. NASA officials then briefed them on Project Mercury. They conceded that it would be a hazardous undertaking, but emphasized that it was of great national importance.[76][77]

The astronauts pose in alphabetical order in front of a delta-winged white jet aircraft. They are holding their flight helmets under their arms. The three Navy aviators wear orange flight suits; the Air Force and Marine ones were green.
The Mercury Seven astronauts with a USAF F-106. From left to right: M. Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil I. Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Alan B. Shepard and Donald K. Slayton.

The briefing process was repeated with a second group of 34 candidates a week later. Of the 69, six were found to be over the height limit, 15 were eliminated for other reasons, and 16 declined. This left NASA with 32 candidates. Since this was more than expected, NASA decided not to bother with the remaining 41 candidates, as 32 candidates seemed a more than adequate number from which to select 12 astronauts as planned. The degree of interest also indicated that far fewer would drop out during training than anticipated, which would result in training astronauts who would not be required to fly Project Mercury missions. It was therefore decided to cut the number of astronauts selected to just six.[78] Then came a grueling series of physical and psychological tests at the Lovelace Clinic and the Wright Aerospace Medical Laboratory.[79] Only one candidate, Jim Lovell, was eliminated on medical grounds at this stage, and the diagnosis was later found to be in error;[80] thirteen others were recommended with reservations. The director of the NASA Space Task Group, Robert R. Gilruth, found himself unable to select only six from the remaining eighteen, and ultimately seven were chosen.[80]

After testing, the astronaut candidates had to wait 10 to 12 days for the results. Glenn had returned to his position at the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics when he received a call from the associate director of Project Mercury, Charles Donlan, offering him a position.[71] The identities of the seven were announced at a press conference at Dolley Madison House in Washington, D.C., on April 9, 1959:[81] Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton.[82] Glenn, wrote Tom Wolfe, "came out of it as tops among seven very fair-haired boys. He had the hottest record as a pilot, he was the most quotable, the most photogenic, and the lone Marine."[83] The magnitude of the challenge ahead of them was made clear a few weeks later, on the night of May 18, 1959, when the seven astronauts gathered at Cape Canaveral to watch their first rocket launch, of an SM-65D Atlas, which was similar to the one that was to carry them into orbit. A few minutes after liftoff, it spectacularly exploded, lighting up the night sky. The astronauts were stunned. Shepard turned to Glenn and said: "Well, I'm glad they got that out of the way."[84]

Glenn remained an officer in the Marine Corps after his selection,[85] but was assigned to the NASA Space Task Group at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.[74] The task force moved to Houston, Texas, in 1962, and became part of the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center.[74] A portion of the astronauts' training was in space science, but it had a practical aspect, which included scuba diving and work in simulators.[71] Astronauts secured an additional role in the spaceflight program: to provide pilot input in design. The astronauts divided the various tasks between them. Glenn's specialization was cockpit layout design and control functioning for the Mercury and early Apollo programs.[71][74] He pressed the other astronauts to set a moral example, living up to the squeaky-clean image of them that had been portrayed by Life magazine, a position that was not popular with the other astronauts.[86]

Friendship 7 flight

Glenn entering his spacecraft, Friendship 7, prior to the launch of Mercury-Atlas 6 on February 20, 1962.

Glenn was a backup pilot for Shepard and Grissom on the first two manned Project Mercury flights, Mercury-Redstone 3 and Mercury-Redstone 4 sub-orbital missions.[74] Glenn was selected for Mercury-Atlas 6, NASA's first manned orbital flight, with Carpenter as his backup. Putting a man in orbit would achieve one of Project Mercury's most important goals.[87] Shepard and Grissom had named their spacecraft Freedom 7 and Liberty Bell 7. The numeral 7 had originally been the production number of Shepard's spacecraft, but had come to represent the Mercury 7. Glenn named his spacecraft, number 13, Friendship 7, and had the name hand-painted on the side like the one on his F-86 had been.[88] Glenn and Carpenter completed their training for the mission in January 1962, but postponement of the launch allowed them to continue rehearsing. Glenn spent 25 hours and 25 minutes in the spacecraft performing hanger and altitude tests, and 59 hours and 45 minutes in the simulator. He flew 70 simulated missions and reacted to 189 simulated system failures.[89]

After a long series of delays,[90] Friendship 7 lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on February 20, 1962. There were eleven delays during the countdown due to equipment malfunctions and improvements and the weather. During Glenn's first orbit, a failure of the automatic-control system was detected. This forced Glenn to operate in manual mode for the second and third orbits, and for re-entry. Later in the flight, telemetry indicated that the heat shield had loosened. If this reading were accurate, Glenn and his spacecraft would burn up on re-entry. After a lengthy discussion on how to deal with this problem, ground controllers decided that leaving the solid-fueled retrorocket pack in place might help keep the loose heat shield in place. They relayed these instructions to Glenn, but did not tell him that the heat shield was possibly loose; although confused at this order, he complied. Leaving the retrorocket pack on made large chunks of flaming debris fly past the window of his capsule during re-entry, which Glenn thought might have been the heat shield. He told an interviewer, "Fortunately it was the rocket pack—or I wouldn't be answering these questions."[91] After the flight, it was determined that the heat shield was not loose, but rather that the sensor was faulty.[92]

Dignitaries on an outdoor stage in front of a building with NASA Manned Spacecraft Center on the side
Glenn being honored by U.S. President Kennedy at temporary Manned Spacecraft Center facilities at Cape Canaveral, Florida, three days after his flight.

Friendship 7 safely splashed down 800 miles (1,290 km) southeast of Cape Canaveral after Glenn's 4-hour, 55-minute flight.[71][a] He carried a note on the flight which read, "I am a stranger. I come in peace. Take me to your leader and there will be a massive reward for you in eternity" in several languages, in case he landed near southern Pacific Ocean islands.[93] The original procedure called for Glenn to exit through the top hatch, but he was uncomfortably warm and decided that egress through the side hatch would be faster.[71][93] During the flight, he endured 7.8 G's of acceleration and traveled 75,679 miles (121,794 km) at about 17,500 miles per hour (28,200 km/h).[71] The flight took Glenn to a maximum altitude (apogee) of about 162 miles (261 km) and a minimum altitude of 100 miles (160 km) (perigee).[93] The flight made Glenn the first American to orbit the Earth,[94] the third American in space, and the fifth human in space.[95][b] The mission, which Glenn called "best day of his life", renewed U.S. confidence.[101] His flight occurred while the U.S. and the Soviet Union were embroiled in the Cold War and competing in the Space Race.[102]

As the first American in orbit Glenn became a national hero, met President John F. Kennedy, and received a ticker-tape parade in New York reminiscent of those honoring Charles Lindbergh and other dignitaries.[92] He became "so valuable to the nation as an iconic figure", according to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, that Kennedy would not "risk putting him back in space again."[103] Glenn's fame and political potential were noted by the Kennedys, and he became a friend of the Kennedy family. On February 23, 1962, President Kennedy gave him the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.[92]

In June 1963, the Soviet Union launched a female cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova into orbit. In response, NASA contemplated recruiting women to the astronaut corps, but Glenn gave a speech before the House Space Committee detailing his opposition to sending women into space, in which he said:

I think this gets back to the way our social order is organized, really. It is just a fact. The men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes and come back and help design and build and test them. The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order.[104]

NASA had no official policy prohibiting women, but the requirement that astronauts had to be military test pilots effectively excluded them.[105] NASA dropped this requirement in 1965,[106] but did not select any women as astronauts until 1978, when six women were selected, although none as pilots.[107] After Tereshkova, no women of any nationality would fly in space again until August 1982, when the Soviet Union launched pilot-cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya.[108] During the late 1970s, Glenn reportedly supported Space Shuttle Mission Specialist Judith Resnik in her career.[109]

Political campaigning

1964 Senate campaign

At 42, Glenn was the oldest member of the astronaut corps and would likely be close to 50 by the time the lunar landings took place. During Glenn's training, NASA psychologists determined that he was the astronaut best suited for public life.[110] Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy suggested to Glenn and his wife in December 1962 that he run for the U.S. Senate for Ohio in 1964, challenging aging incumbent Stephen M. Young (1889–1984) in the Democratic primary election. Since it seemed unlikely that he would be selected for Project Apollo missions,[71] he resigned from NASA on January 16, 1964, and announced his Democratic Party candidacy for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Ohio the following day.[111]

While attempting to fix a mirror in a hotel room, he was hospitalized for a concussion sustained in a fall against a bathtub in late February;[1] an inner-ear injury from the accident left him unable to campaign.[112][113] He withdrew from the race on March 30.[114] Both his wife and Scott Carpenter campaigned on his behalf during February and March, but doctors gave Glenn a recovery time of one year. Glenn did not want to win solely due to his astronaut fame, so he dropped out of the race on March 31.[115]

Glenn went on convalescent leave from the Marine Corps until he fully recovered, which was required for his retirement. He retired as a colonel on January 1, 1965, and became an executive with RC Cola.[92]

1970 Senate campaign

In 1970, Young did not seek reelection and the seat was open. Businessman Howard Metzenbaum was backed by the Ohio Democratic party and major labor unions, which provided him a significant funding advantage over Glenn. Glenn was defeated in the Democratic primary by Metzenbaum (who received 51 percent of the vote to Glenn's 49 percent). Some prominent Democrats said Glenn was a "hapless political rube",[1] and one newspaper called him "the ultimate square".[1]

Metzenbaum later lost the general election to Robert Taft Jr.[1] Glenn continued to remain active in the political scene following his defeat. John J. Gilligan, the Ohio Governor at the time, appointed Glenn to be the chairman of the Citizens Task Force on Environmental Protection in 1970. The task force was created to survey environmental problems in the state and released a report in 1971 detailing the issues. The meetings and the final report of the task force were major contributors to the formation of Ohio's Environmental Protection Agency.[115]

1974 Senate campaign

In 1974, Gilligan and Democratic party leaders attempted to persuade Glenn to campaign for the lieutenant governor position of Ohio. Glenn declined, denouncing their attempts as "bossism" and "blackmail".[1] He challenged Metzenbaum again for the other Ohio Senate seat, which had been vacated by Republican William B. Saxbe, who became U.S. Attorney General in early 1974. Metzenbaum was the short-term incumbent, appointed by Gilligan in January.[1]

In the primary, Metzenbaum contrasted his strong business background with Glenn's military and astronaut credentials and said that his opponent had "never held a payroll". Glenn's reply became known as the "Gold Star Mothers" speech. He told Metzenbaum to go to a veterans' hospital and "look those men with mangled bodies in the eyes and tell them they didn't hold a job. You go with me to any Gold Star mother and you look her in the eye and tell her that her son did not hold a job".[116] He defeated Metzenbaum 54 to 46 percent before defeating Ralph Perk (the Republican mayor of Cleveland) in the general election, beginning a Senate career which would continue until 1999.[117]

1976 Vice president campaign

John F. Kennedy presents Glenn with a gift.

Glenn remained close to the Kennedy family, and campaigned for Robert F. Kennedy during his 1968 presidential campaign.[118][119][120] Glenn was with him in Los Angeles when he was assassinated in 1968, and was a pallbearer at the funeral in New York.[121]

In 1976, Glenn was a candidate for the Democratic vice presidential nomination. He was considered because he was a senator in a pivotal state and for his fame and straightforwardness.[122] Some thought he was too much like Carter, partially because the both had military backgrounds, and that he did not have enough experience to potentially become president.[123] Glenn's keynote address at the Democratic National Convention failed to impress the delegates, due to Barbara Jordan stealing the show and that he was hard to hear.[124] The nomination went to veteran politician Walter Mondale.[125]

1980 Senate campaign

In Glenn's first reelection campaign, Jim Betts challenged him for the seat. Betts publicly stated that Glenn's policies were part of the reason for inflation increases and a lower standard of living. [126] Betts' campaign also attacked Glenn's voting record, saying that he often voted for spending increases. Glenn's campaign's response was that he has been a part of over 3,000 roll calls and "any one of them could be taken out of context".[127] Glenn was projected to win the race by a large margin.[128] After the votes were tallied, Glenn won by the largest margin ever for an Ohio Senator, defeating Betts by over 40 percent.[117][129]

1984 President campaign

The movie [The Right Stuff] seems to fit Mr. Glenn's political purposes almost ideally since it depicts him as an heroic square with a self-depreciating sense of humor about his squareness, as a devoted protector of his family and as a fierce, driven patriot.

New York Times[130]

Glenn announced his candidacy for president on April 21, 1983 in the John Glenn High School gymnasium.[131] During his run for the presidential nomination, The Right Stuff, a film about the Mercury Seven astronauts, was released. Reviewers saw Ed Harris' portrayal of Glenn as heroic and his staff began to publicize the film to the press.[132] One reviewer said that "Harris’ depiction helped transform Glenn from a history-book figure into a likable, thoroughly adoration-worthy Hollywood hero," turning him into a big-screen icon.[132] Others considered the movie to be damaging to Glenn's campaign, serving as only a reminder that Glenn's most significant achievement occurred decades earlier.[133] Glenn ran for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination but he lost again to Mondale.[130]

Glenn's press secretary Greg Schneiders suggested an unusual strategy, inspired by Glenn's personal campaign and voting style, of avoiding appealing to special interest groups and instead seeking support from ordinary Democratic primary voters.[112] After Mondale defeated him for the nomination, Glenn carried $3 million in campaign debt for over 20 years before receiving a reprieve from the Federal Election Commission.[134][135] He was considered as a vice-presidential candidate in 1984, 1988, and 1992.[136]

1986 Senate campaign

Glenn kept the Senate seat in 1986. He was challenged by Thomas Kindness. Glenn believed he and other Democrats were the targets of a negative campaign thought up by the GOP strategists in Washington. Kindness focused on Glenn's campaign debts for his failed presidential run, and the fact he stopped payments on it while campaigning for the Senate seat.[137] After winning the race, Glenn remarked, "We proved that in 1986, they couldn't kill Glenn with Kindness."[138] He won the race with 62% of the vote.[139]

1992 Senate campaign

A map of Ohio indicating the counties that voted Republican or Democrat in the 1992 Senator election
The results of the 1992 election for Senator, with the red indicating Mike DeWine and the blue Glenn.

In 1992, Republican Mike DeWine won the Republican primary and challenged Glenn in the Senate election. His campaign focused on the need for change and for term limits for Senators. This would be Glenn's fourth term as Senator.[140] DeWine also criticized Glenn's campaign debts, using a bunny dressed as an astronaut beating a drum, with an announcer saying, "He just keeps owing and owing and owing", a play on the Energizer Bunny.[141] Glenn won the Senate seat.[139] It was DeWine's first-ever campaign loss. DeWine later worked on the intelligence committee with Glenn and watched his second launch into space.[142]

Senate career

Committee on Governmental Affairs

In 1977, Glenn wanted to chair the Energy, Nuclear Proliferation, and Federal Services Subcommittee of the Governmental Affairs Committee. Abraham Ribicoff, chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee, said he could chair the subcommittee if he also chaired the less popular Federal Services Subcommittee, which was in charge of the U.S. Postal Service. Although previous chairs of the Federal Services Subcommittee lost elections due in part to negative campaigns that tied in the poorly regarded mail service with the chairmen, Glenn accepted the offer and became the chair of both subcommittees.[143] One of his goals as a freshman senator was developing environmental policies.[144] Glenn introduced bills on energy policy to try to counter the energy crisis in the 70s. Glenn also introduced legislation promoting nuclear non-proliferation, and was the chief author of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978,[145] the first of six major pieces of legislation that he produced on the subject.[115][146]

Glenn chaired the Committee on Governmental Affairs from 1987 to 1995.[147] It was in this role that he discovered a host of safety and environmental problems with the nation's nuclear weapons facilities. Glenn was made aware of the problem at the Fernald Feed Materials Production Center near Cincinnati, and soon found that it was an issue that occurred at several sites around the nation. Glenn requested investigations from the General Accounting Office of Congress and held several hearings on the issue. He also released a report on the potential costs of hazardous waste cleanup at former nuclear weapons manufacturing facilities, known as the Glenn Report.[148] He spent the remainder of his Senate career acquiring funding to clean up the nuclear waste left at the facilities.[149]

In 1995 Glenn became the ranking minority member of the Committee on Governmental Affairs. Glenn disputed the focus of illegal Chinese donations to the Democrats, and asserted that Republicans also had egregious fundraising issues. The committee chair, Fred Thompson of Tennessee, disagreed and continued the investigation.[150][151]

Glenn was the vice chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, a subcommittee of the Committee on Governmental Affairs.[152] When the Republican Party regained control of the Senate in 1996, Glenn became the ranking minority member on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (chaired by Maine Senator Susan Collins).[153]

Other committees and activities

Glenn at the Senate

Glenn was on several committees during his first term as Senator, including the Government Operations Committee, and Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, and Energy Research and Water Resources Subcommittee. He also sat on the Special Committee on Aging.[154]

Glenn was considered an expert in matters of science and technology due to his background. He was a supporter of continuing the B-1 bomber program, which he considered successful. This conflicted with President Carter's desire to fund the B-2 bomber program. Glenn did not fully support development of the B-2 because he had doubts about the feasibility of the stealth technology. He drafted a proposal to slow down the development of the B-2, which could have potentially saved money, but the measure was rejected.[155]

Glenn joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1978. He became the chairman of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, for which he traveled to Japan, Korea, the Republic of China, and the People's Republic of China. Glenn helped to pass the Taiwan Enabling Act of 1979. The same year, Glenn's stance on the SALT II treaty caused another dispute with President Carter. He did not believe that the U.S. had the capability to monitor the Soviet Union accurately enough to verify compliance with the treaty. During the launching ceremony for the USS Ohio, he spoke about his doubts about verifying treaty compliance. First Lady Rosalynn Carter also spoke at the event, during which she criticized Glenn for speaking publicly about the issue. The Senate never ratified the treaty, in part because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.[115]

An older John Glenn speaking at a podium, with his glasses perched high above his ears so he can read with them
Glenn delivers remarks during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring the Apollo 11 astronauts in the Rotunda at the U.S. Capitol in 2011

Glenn became chairman of the Manpower Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee in 1987.[156] He introduced legislation such as increasing pay and benefits for American troops in the Persian Gulf during the Gulf War.[157] He served as chairman until 1993, becoming chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Readiness and Defense Infrastructure.[158]

Keating Five

Glenn was one of the Keating Five—the U.S. Senators involved with the savings and loan crisis—after Glenn accepted a $200,000 campaign contribution from Lincoln Savings and Loan Association head Charles Keating. During the crisis, the Senators were accused of delaying the seizure of Keating's S&L, which cost taxpayers an additional $2 billion. The combination of perceived political pressure and Keating's monetary contributions to the senators led to an investigation.[159]

Glenn and Republican Senator John McCain were reprimanded the least of the five, as the Senate commission found that they had exercised "poor judgment".[160] The GOP focused on Glenn's "poor judgement" rather than what Glenn saw as complete exoneration. GOP chairman Robert Bennett said, "John Glenn misjudged Charles Keating. He also misjudged the tolerance of Ohio's taxpayers, who are left to foot the bill of nearly $2 billion."[161] After the Senate's report, Glenn said, "They so firmly put this thing to bed...there isn't much there to fuss with. I didn't do anything wrong."[162] The association of his name with the scandal made Republicans hopeful that he could be defeated in the 1992 campaign, but Glenn defeated Lieutenant Governor Mike DeWine to retain his seat.[163]


On February 20, 1997, which was the 35th anniversary of his Friendship 7 flight, Glenn announced that his retirement from the Senate would occur at the end of his term in December 1998.[164] Glenn retired due to his age, saying "...there is still no cure for the common birthday". Glenn was the only senator from Ohio to serve four Senate terms.[165]

Return to space

A bespectacled, smiling Glenn in close quarters on the space shuttle Discovery
Senator-astronaut John Glenn on the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998

On January 16, 1998, NASA Administrator Dan Goldin announced that Glenn would be part of the STS-95 crew;[71] this made him, at age 77, the oldest person to fly in space. NASA and the National Institute of Aging (NIA) planned to use Glenn as a test subject for research, with biometrics taken before, during and after his flight. Some experiments (in circadian rhythms, for example) compared him with the younger crew members. In addition to these tests, he was in charge of the flight's photography and videography. Glenn returned to space on the Space Shuttle on October 29, 1998, as a Payload Specialist on Space Shuttle Discovery.[71] According to The New York Times, Glenn "won his seat on the Shuttle flight by lobbying NASA for two years to fly as a human guinea pig for geriatric studies"; this was cited as the main reason for his participation in the mission.[166] Shortly before the flight, researchers disqualified Glenn from one of the flight's two major human experiments (on the effect of melatonin) due to undisclosed medical reasons; he participated in experiments on sleep monitoring and protein use.[166][167]

On November 6, 1998, President Bill Clinton sent the first ever presidential email to Glenn aboard the Discovery. Clinton sent the email from the home of a friend in Arkansas using a Toshiba Satellite laptop computer that belonged to White House physician Robert G. Darling.[168]

John Glenn and the rest of the STS-95 crew dressed in their bright orange spacesuits for their official portrait, with a sunset from space in the background
STS-95 official crew photo

Glenn wrote in his memoir that he had no idea that NASA was willing to send him back into space when the agency made its announcement.[169] His participation in the nine-day mission was criticized by some members of the space community as a favor granted by Clinton; John Pike, director of the Federation of American Scientists' space-policy project, said: "If he was a normal person, he would acknowledge he's a great American hero and that he should get to fly on the shuttle for free ... He's too modest for that, and so he's got to have this medical research reason. It's got nothing to do with medicine".[92][170]

In a 2012 interview, Glenn said that the purpose of his flight was "to make measurements and do research on me at the age of 77 ... comparing the results on me in space with the younger [astronauts] and maybe get [insights] on the immune system or protein turnover or vestibular functions and other things—heart changes". Glenn also said that after reading a study on aerospace medicine, he was intrigued at how the physiological changes experienced by the human body in space (such as loss of bone and muscle mass and blood plasma) were similar to those of the human body as it ages.[167] He regretted that NASA did not continue its research on aging by sending additional elderly people into space.[167] After STS-95 returned safely, its crew received a ticker-tape parade. On October 15, 1998, NASA Road 1 (the main route to the Johnson Space Center) was temporarily renamed John Glenn Parkway for several months.[171] In 2001, Glenn strenuously opposed sending Dennis Tito, the world's first space tourist, to the International Space Station because Tito's trip had no scientific purpose.[172]

Personal life

Black-and-white photo of the Glenns
Annie and John Glenn in 1965

A Freemason, Glenn was a member of Concord Lodge #688 in New Concord, Ohio. He received all of his degrees in full in a Mason at Sight ceremony from the Grand Master of Ohio in 1978, 14 years after petitioning his lodge. In 1998, Glenn became a 32nd-degree Scottish Rite Mason in the Valley of Cincinnati (NMJ); the following year, he received the 33rd degree of the Scottish rite. As an adult, he was honored as part of the DeMolay Legion of Honor by DeMolay International, a Masonic youth organization for boys.[173][174]

Glenn was an ordained elder of the Presbyterian Church.[175] His religious faith began before he became an astronaut, and was reinforced after he traveled in space. "To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible," said Glenn after his second (and final) space voyage.[176] He saw no contradiction between belief in God and the knowledge that evolution is "a fact" and believed evolution should be taught in schools:[177] "I don't see that I'm any less religious that I can appreciate the fact that science just records that we change with evolution and time, and that's a fact. It doesn't mean it's less wondrous and it doesn't mean that there can't be some power greater than any of us that has been behind and is behind whatever is going on."[178]

He was an original owner of a Holiday Inn franchise near Orlando, Florida, which is today the Seralago Hotel & Suites Main Gate East.[179] Glenn's business partner was Henri Landwirth, a Holocaust survivor who became his best friend.[180] He remembered learning about Landwirth's background: "Henri doesn't talk about it much. It was years before he spoke about it with me and then only because of an accident. We were down in Florida during the space program. Everyone was wearing short-sleeved Ban-Lon shirts—everyone but Henri. Then one day I saw Henri at the pool and noticed the number on his arm. I told Henri that if it were me I'd wear that number like a medal with a spotlight on it."[180]

Public appearances

A bespectacled Glenn speaking at an outdoor podium
Glenn at the ceremony transferring the space shuttle Discovery to the Smithsonian Institution

Glenn was an honorary member of the International Academy of Astronautics and a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Marine Corps Aviation Association, Order of Daedalians, National Space Club Board of Trustees, National Space Society Board of Governors, International Association of Holiday Inns, Ohio Democratic Party, State Democratic Executive Committee, Franklin County (Ohio) Democratic Party and the 10th District (Ohio) Democratic Action Club.[16] In 2001 he guest-starred as himself on the American television sitcom Frasier.[181]

On September 5, 2009, John and Annie Glenn dotted the "i" in Ohio State University's Script Ohio marching band performance during the Ohio StateNavy football-game halftime show, which is normally reserved for veteran band members.[182][183] To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Friendship 7 flight on February 20, 2012, he had an unexpected opportunity to speak with the orbiting crew of the International Space Station when he was onstage with NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden at Ohio State University.[184] On April 19, 2012, Glenn participated in the ceremonial transfer of the retired Space Shuttle Discovery from NASA to the Smithsonian Institution for permanent display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. He used the occasion to criticize the "unfortunate" decision to end the Space Shuttle program, saying that grounding the shuttles delayed research.[185]

Illness and death

Glenn was in good health for most of his life. He retained a private pilot's license well into his 80s, eventually quitting flying when he and his wife found it too difficult to get into the cockpit due to knee problems. In June 2014, Glenn underwent successful heart valve replacement surgery at the Cleveland Clinic.[186] In early December 2016, he was hospitalized at the James Cancer Hospital of Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.[187][188][189] According to a family source, Glenn had been in declining health, and his condition was grave; his wife and their children and grandchildren were at the hospital.[190]

Six marines carrying Glenn's casket, which has an American flag draped around it
Glenn's casket carried by Marine Corps pallbearers

Glenn died on December 8, 2016, at the OSU Wexner Medical Center; he was 95 years old.[23][191] No cause of death was disclosed. After his death, his body lay in state at the Ohio Statehouse. There was a memorial service at Mershon Auditorium at Ohio State University.[23] His body was interred at Arlington National Cemetery on April 6, 2017.[192][193] At the time of his death, John Glenn was the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven.[194]

The Military Times reported that William Zwicharowski, a senior mortuary official at Dover Air Force Base, had offered to let visiting inspectors view Glenn's remains, sparking an official investigation.[195][196] Zwicharowski has denied the remains were disrespected.[197]

President Barack Obama said that John Glenn, "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".[198] Tributes were also paid by President-elect Donald Trump,[199] and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.[200]

The phrase "Godspeed, John Glenn", which fellow Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter used to hail Glenn's launch into space, became his social-media hashtag: #GodspeedJohnGlenn. Former and current astronauts added tributes; so did NASA Administrator and former shuttle astronaut Charles Bolden, who wrote: "John Glenn's legacy is one of risk and accomplishment, of history created and duty to country carried out under great pressure with the whole world watching."[201] President Obama ordered flags to be flown at half-mast until Glenn's burial.[202] On April 5, 2017, President Donald Trump issued presidential proclamation 9588, titled "Honoring the Memory of John Glenn".[203][204]


Bronze oakleaf-3d.svgBronze oakleaf-3d.svg1 golden star.svg1 golden star.svg1 golden star.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svgBronze oakleaf-3d.svgAward-star-silver-3d.pngAward-star-silver-3d.pngAward-star-silver-3d.png
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Naval Aviator Astronaut Insignia[48]
Distinguished Flying Cross with three gold stars and two bronze clusters[48]
Air Medal
with fifteen stars and two custers[48]
Navy Presidential Unit Citation[205] Navy Unit Commendation[48]
Presidential Medal of Freedom[206] Congressional Space Medal of Honor[48] NASA Distinguished Service Medal[48]
NASA Space Flight Medal[48] Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal[205] China Service Medal[48]
American Campaign Medal[48] Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
with one star[205]
World War II Victory Medal[48]
Navy Occupation Service Medal[205] National Defense Service Medal
with one star[48]
Korean Service Medal
with two stars[205]
Presidential Unit Citation (Korea)[48] United Nations Korea Medal[48] Korean War Service Medal[48]
Quincy Jones presenting award records to Glenn and Neil Armstrong
Quincy Jones presents platinum copies of "Fly Me to the Moon" (from It Might as Well Be Swing) to Glenn and Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong in 2008

In 1961, Glenn received an honorary LL.D from Muskingum University, the college he attended before joining the military in World War II.[20] The Society of Experimental Test Pilots awarded Glenn the Iven C. Kincheloe award in 1963.[212] He received honorary doctorates from Nihon University in Tokyo; Wagner College in Staten Island, New York; and New Hampshire College (now Southern New Hampshire University) in Manchester, New Hampshire.[213][214] He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1976,[215] the International Space Hall of Fame in 1977,[95] the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1990.[216] In 2000, he received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for public service by an elected or appointed official, one of the annual Jefferson Awards.[217] Four years later, he received the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institution.[218][219] Glenn was awarded the NCAA's Theodore Roosevelt Award for 2008.[220] In 2009, he was awarded an honorary LL.D from Williams College,[221] and the following year, he received an honorary doctorate of public service degree from Ohio Northern University.[222] In 2013, Flying magazine ranked Glenn 26th on its "51 Heroes of Aviation" list.[223]

Barack Obama putting on Glenn's Medal of Freedom from behind
Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2012

The Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland is named after him, and the Senator John Glenn Highway runs along a stretch of I-480 in Ohio across from the Glenn Research Center.[224][225] Colonel Glenn Highway (which passes Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Wright State University near Dayton, Ohio), John Glenn High School in his hometown of New Concord, and the former Col. John Glenn Elementary in Seven Hills, Ohio, were also named for him.[226][227] High schools in Westland and Bay City, Michigan; Walkerton, Indiana; San Angelo, Texas, and Norwalk, California bear Glenn's name.[228][229][230][231][232] The fireboat John H. Glenn Jr., operated by the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and protecting sections of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers which run through Washington, D.C., was named for him, as was USNS John Glenn (T-MLP-2), a mobile landing platform delivered to the U.S. Navy on March 12, 2014.[233] In June 2016, the Port Columbus, Ohio, airport was renamed John Glenn Columbus International Airport. Glenn and his family attended the ceremony, during which he spoke about how visiting the airport as a child had kindled his interest in flying.[234] On September 12, 2016, Blue Origin announced the New Glenn, a rocket.[235] Orbital ATK named the Cygnus space capsule used in the NASA CRS OA-7 mission to the international space station "S.S. John Glenn" in his honor. The mission successfully lifted off on April 16, 2017.[236]

In 1998 Glenn helped found the John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at Ohio State University to encourage public service. On July 22, 2006, the institute merged with OSU's School of Public Policy and Management to become the John Glenn School of Public Affairs; Glenn held an adjunct professorship at the school.[237] In February 2015, it was announced that the school would become the John Glenn College of Public Affairs in April.[238]



  1. ^ The spacecraft landed 41 miles (66 km) west and 19 miles (31 km) north of the target landing site. Friendship 7 was recovered by the USS Noa, which had the spacecraft on the deck 21 minutes after landing; Glenn was in the capsule during the recovery operation.[71]
  2. ^ Perth, Western Australia, became known worldwide as the "City of Light"[96] when residents turned on their house, car and streetlights as Glenn passed overhead.[97][98] The city repeated the act when Glenn rode the Space Shuttle in 1998.[99][100]


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Further reading

  • Fenno, Richard F, Jr (1990). The Presidential Odyssey of John Glenn. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. ISBN 978-0-87187-567-9. 
  • Shettle Jr., M. L. (2001). United States Marine Corps Air Stations of World War II. Bowersville, Georgia: Schaertel Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9643388-2-1. 

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