The Right Stuff
Pioneer John Glenn Returns to Space
by Michael Morrison
Is there anything John Glenn can't do? College graduate, distinguished war hero, the first American to orbit the earth, state senator — and the oldest person to go into space.
John H. Glenn, Jr. was born on July 18, 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio. He graduated from New Concord High School (now known as John Glenn High School) and then enrolled at Muskingum College, where he ultimately received a B.S. in engineering. In 1943, three months into his junior year, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, and also married Anna Margaret Castor.
Glenn flew 59 missions during World War II. After serving two years as a flight instructor, he volunteered for the Korean War, during which he flew 63 missions and shot down three MIGs. He was awarded a number of medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross six times.
In 1957, Glenn gained national recognition, setting a transcontinental speed record by flying from Los Angeles to New York in 3 hours and 23 minutes. In 1958, he was one of the original seven astronauts selected to the U.S. space program's Project Mercury. Four years later, he would become a national hero.
On February 20, 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. Riding inside the Friendship 7 capsule, he successfully completed his mission in 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds, reaching speeds of approximately 17,500 mph. Nine days later, 4 million spectators in the streets of Manhattan gave him a hero's welcome.
Primarily at the urging of President Kennedy, who didn't see the need to put his national hero at risk, Glenn resigned from the space program in 1964. He became an executive with Royal Crown International before returning to public service in 1974 as a U.S. senator. He was reelected in 1980 by the largest margin in Ohio history, then again in 1986 and '92. He will retire from his senate seat at the end of this term.
On October 29, 1998, Glenn, then 77, became the oldest person in space when he and six fellow astronauts were hurled into space for almost nine days aboard the space shuttle Discovery.