R.I.P. John Glenn

John Glenn receives from President Barack Obama the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Photo NASA/BILL INGALLS)
John Glenn receives from President Barack Obama the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Photo NASA/BILL INGALLS)

Yesterday John Glenn, the first American to make an orbital flight, passed away. He was hospitalized more than a week ago but no information about his health problems were provided. However, a source linked to his family revealed that his condition was grave and his relatives joined him in the hospital.

John Herschel Glenn Jr. was born on July 18, 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio, USA. During his engineering studies at Muskingum College he took a private pilot license. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he abandoned his studies to enlist in the Air Force. However, he wasn’t called into service and the year after he enlisted as a pilot in the Navy. In 1943 he married Anna Margaret “Annie” Castor, with whom he had two children.

John Glenn served in the Marine Corps as a military pilot participating in various missions. After the end of World War II he became a flight instructor, he served again as a pilot during the Korean War and in the ’50s became a test pilot. In 1958, when the newly formed NASA began its research of the first astronauts, John Glenn was part of the original group of 7 selected.

Alan Shepard became the first American to fly in space but that was a suborbital flight. On February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to make an orbital flight on the Friendship 7 spacecraft. Instantly, he became a national hero and was honored with the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, which he was given directly by the then US President John F. Kennedy.

In 1964, John Glenn retired from NASA to begin a new career in the political field. He ran for the US Senate but a domestic accident caused him a concussion and an inner ear injury that forced him to withdraw. Eventually, in 1974 he was elected senator and was confirmed on several subsequent elections until the announcement of his retirement from political life in 1999.

When he was still a senator, John Glenn went into space again as part of the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery, launched on October 29, 1998 for the STS-95 9-day mission. Glenn established the record as the oldest human being to have traveled in space as at the time he was 77. During and after the mission, he underwent a series of tests for a geriatric study on the reactions of an elderly person to a space mission.

For services provided in the course of his life, John Glenn received a number of honors. In 2009, the US Congress awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Those are the most important decoration of the USA.

John Glenn's 1964 NASA official portrait
John Glenn’s 1964 NASA official portrait

Behind the cold biographical data there’s an icon and not only American. John Glenn was one of the great space pioneers who inspired generations of people. NASA opened a section of its website dedicated to him that retraces the steps of his career including photographs, clips and more. A fitting tribute to an astronautics giant.

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