Senator John Herschel Glenn Jr.
(Colonel, USMC, Ret.)
July 18, 1921 - December 8, 2016
On February 20, 1962, John Glenn, one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, became the first American to orbit the Earth. His service to his country did not begin or end there, however. A U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot, Glenn was decorated veteran of two wars, a U.S. Senator for Ohio, and an astronaut again when he traveled into space for the second time in 1998. He was also a great friend of the National Air and Space Museum.
Born in Cambridge, Ohio, Glenn grew up in nearby New Concord. In 1942, he volunteered for the Marine Corps, and before he went overseas married Anna Castor. They later had two children. Glenn flew 59 combat missions in the Pacific in 1944–45. During the Korean War, he served two combat tours in jet fighters and shot down three MiG-15s. In 1956, he became a Navy test pilot, and NASA selected him for the astronaut team in 1959.
During his three-orbit flight in Friendship 7 in 1962, Glenn performed superbly in the face of worrying problems. After retiring from the astronaut corps, he ran for political office, worked as a corporate executive, then was elected a senator in 1974. He retired at the beginning of January 1999.
Near the end of his last term, NASA assigned him to Space Shuttle mission STS-95, with the purpose of researching the effects of spaceflight on the aging body. He flew nine days, October 29 to November 7, 1998, in Discovery as a payload specialist. He still holds the record as the oldest person ever to fly in space. Among his many honors are the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. In 2004 this Museum created the annual John H. Glenn Lecture to honor his service to the nation and the Smithsonian.
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