Remembering John Glenn

    John Glenn, pilot, decorated war veteran, and former senator, and the first American to orbit the Earth, has died. He was 95.

    On the morning of Feb. 20, 1962, 40-year-old John Glenn stepped inside a Mercury capsule, the spacecraft of America’s first human spaceflight program, for the Friendship 7 mission. Glenn entered orbit just fine, and circled the Earth three times in almost five hours, but Glenn’s return to Earth proved nerve-racking. An indicator back at mission control suggested the capsule’s heat shield was loose. Without an operational shield, the spacecraft would burn up during the fiery descent. Glenn was instructed not to deploy the capsule’s retrorocket pack, which could help keep the heat shield in place, and to take manual control of the capsule. Glenn described “a real fireball outside” as the Mercury entered the atmosphere—and then splashed safely in the Caribbean Sea, near Turks and Caicos, unharmed.

    Glenn’s voyage came in the midst of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, and his success buoyed the spirits of a watchful American public.

    See the actual footage of John Glenn’s Friendship 7 Mercury Capsule Mission and learn about the Mercury Capsule program and John Glen’s historic orbit around the earth directly from the brilliant NASA iconic engineers who designed and built the Mercury capsule right here in St. Louis at the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, here:

    Glenn was born July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio. He earned a pilot’s license as a young man and joined the Marines during his college years. He flew dozens of combat missions during World War II and in the Korean War.

    In 1970, Glenn launched his campaign for a Senate seat in his home state of Ohio, but lost. His second attempt in 1974 was successful. During a Democratic primary debate, Glenn’s challenger asked him, “How can you run for Senate when you’ve never held a job?” Glenn responded by pointing to his time in the military and the space program. “It wasn’t my checkbook, it was my life that was on the line,” he said.

    In the late 1990s, Glenn pitched to NASA the idea of studying the effects of spaceflight on geriatric bodies, and offered himself up as a test subject. In 1998, 77-year-old Glenn flew aboard the shuttle Discovery, becoming the oldest person to fly in space.

    Researchers owe Glenn for their first taste of the experience of true weightlessness. During his orbit around Earth, Glenn reported back to mission control everything he felt. He measured his blood pressure, tested his vision by reading a small copy of the eye chart found at doctors’ offices, and shook his head around to see if he felt nauseous. He found, much to some scientists’ surprise, that he felt fine.

    “In fact,” Glenn later wrote about the experience, “I found weightlessness to be extremely pleasant.”

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