John Glenn, who was celebrated as a national hero after becoming the first U.S. astronaut to orbit Earth and went on to serve 24 years in the Senate and seek the presidency, has died. He was 95.
He died Thursday at Ohio State University’s James Cancer Centre in Columbus, according to Hank Wilson, director of communications at the John Glenn School of Public Affairs.
“John always had the right stuff, inspiring generations of scientists, engineers and astronauts who will take us to Mars and beyond — not just to visit but to stay,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
“Today we lost a great pioneer of air and space in John Glenn,” President-elect Donald Trump said on Twitter. “He was a hero and inspired generations of future explorers.”
Glenn did much more than just orbit three times in 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds on Feb. 20, 1962. His mission revitalized the U.S. space program, which had been demoralized after the Soviet Union put cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit 10 months earlier. That Glenn’s mission had been delayed 10 times over two months for technical problems only heightened the anxiety.
Millions of Americans listening to transistor radios or watching on television, including thousands of spectators at New York’s Grand Central Terminal and countless schoolchildren, heard the voice of NASA mission control say, “Godspeed, John Glenn” as his Friendship 7 capsule was launched into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Glenn traveled about 81,000 miles (131,000 kilometers) before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Bermuda.
When he landed, the 40-year-old Glenn was a national sensation. His photo was on the cover of Time and Life magazines. He addressed a joint session of Congress and was given a ticker-tape parade that drew 4 million people to lower Broadway in Manhattan, the biggest crowd for such a tribute. (-Bloomberg)