John Glenn + Astronaut

John Glenn + Astronaut, Office: Former U.S. senator, Ohio, Democrat Years in office: 1974 to 1999 Political life: Glenn was a potential three-time vice presidential running mate who also ran for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination but lost to a veteran politician.

John Glenn was born in Cambridge, Ohio, to John Herschel Glenn Sr. and Teresa (née Sproat). He was raised in New Concord, Ohio. Glenn studied mathematics at Muskingum College, and received his private pilot's license as physics course credit in 1941. When the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II, he dropped out of college and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps; however, the Army did not call him up, and in March 1941 he enlisted as a United States Navy aviation cadet. He trained at Naval Air Station Olathe, where he made his first solo flight in a military aircraft. During advanced training in 1943 at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, he was reassigned to the United States Marine Corps. After completing his training, Glenn was assigned to Marine squadron VMJ-353, flying R4D transport planes. He eventually managed a transfer to VMF-155 as an F4U Corsair pilot, and flew 59 combat missions in the South Pacific. He saw action over the Marshall Islands, where he attacked anti-aircraft batteries and dropped bombs on Maloelap. In 1945 he was assigned to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, where he was promoted to captain shortly before the war ended. Glenn flew patrol missions in North China with the VMF-218 squadron, until it was transferred to Guam. In 1948 he became a flight instructor at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, then attended the amphibious warfare school and received a staff assignment.

Glenn was next assigned to VMF-311, flying the new F9F Panther jet interceptor. He flew his Panther in 63 combat missions during the Korean War, gaining the dubious nickname "magnet ass" from his apparent ability to attract enemy flak. Twice he returned to base with over 250 flak holes in his aircraft. Glenn flew for a time with Ted Williams, a future hall of fame baseball player for the Boston Red Sox, as his wingman.

Glenn flew a second Korean combat tour on an interservice exchange program with the United States Air Force. He logged 27 missions in the faster F-86F Sabre, and shot down three MiG-15s near the Yalu River in the final days before the ceasefire.

Glenn returned to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, appointed to the Test Pilot School (class 12). He served as an armament officer, flying planes to high altitude and testing their cannons and machine guns. On July 16, 1957, Glenn completed the first supersonic transcontinental flight in a Vought F8U-1 Crusader. The flight from NAS Los Alamitos, California, to Floyd Bennett Field, New York, took 3 hours, 23 minutes and 8.3 seconds. As he passed over his hometown, a child in the neighborhood reportedly ran to the Glenn house shouting "Johnny dropped a bomb! Johnny dropped a bomb! Johnny dropped a bomb!" as the sonic boom shook the town. Project Bullet, the name of the mission, included both the first transcontinental flight to average supersonic speed (despite three in-flight refuelings during which speeds dropped below 300 mph), and the first continuous transcontinental panoramic photograph of the United States. Glenn received his fifth Distinguished Flying Cross for the mission.


In April 1959, despite the fact that Glenn had not earned the required college degree, he was assigned to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as one of the original group of seven astronauts chosen for Project Mercury. During this time, he remained an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

He became the fifth person in space and the first American 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. Perth, Western Australia became known worldwide as the "City of Light" when city residents lit their house lights and streetlights as Glenn passed overhead. The city repeated the act when Glenn rode the Space Shuttle in 1998. During the mission there was concern over a ground indication that his heat shield had come loose, which could allow it to fail during re-entry through the atmosphere, which would result in his capsule burning up. Flight controllers had Glenn modify his re-entry procedure by keeping his retrorocket pack on over the shield in an attempt to keep it in place. He made his splashdown safely, and afterwards it was determined that the indicator was faulty.

As the first American in orbit, Glenn was celebrated as a national hero, and received a ticker-tape parade reminiscent of that given for Charles Lindbergh. His fame and political attributes were noted by the Kennedys, and he became a personal friend of the Kennedy family.

In July 1962 Glenn testified before the House Space Committee in favor of excluding women from the NASA astronaut program. The impact of such testimony, from so prestigious a national hero, is debatable, but no female astronaut flew on a NASA mission until Sally Ride in 1983, and none piloted a mission until Eileen Collins in 1995, more than 30 years after the hearings.

Glenn resigned from NASA six weeks after the assassination of John F. Kennedy to run for office in his home state of Ohio. In 1965 he retired as a Colonel from the USMC and entered the business world as an executive for Royal Crown Cola. He re-entered 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, 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 United States 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 to go into space until that time. 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—providing information on the effects of spaceflight and weightlessness on the elderly, with an ideal control. Upon the safe return of the STS-95 crew, Glenn (and his crewmates) received another ticker-tape parade, making him the tenth, and latest person to have received multiple ticker-tape parades in a lifetime (as opposed to that of a sports team).

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, and Col. John Glenn Elementary in Seven Hills, Ohio, were named for him as well. High Schools in Westland, Michigan, Bay City, Michigan, Walkerton, Indiana, and Norwalk, California are also named after him.


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