John Glenn: The First, Certainly Not the Last, to Orbit the Earth
Dean Trevor Brown described John Glenn as “humble, funny and generous”, and he could never be right enough. Glenn was an instant hero, but he remained low-key. He was not known to boast of his accomplishments, but his records speaks for itself. Relatives also characterized him as thrilled about music and that he loved meeting citizens and school children. What else is there to John Glenn apart from being the first to orbit the Earth in space? Well, he was given credit for being the oldest to go on a space mission when he boarded Discovery at age 77 back on October 29, 1998.
Early Life and Military Career
Glenn was born to a father who provided plumbing services and a mother who taught the younger generation. At an early age, he was already exposed to the military because his father became a member of the American Expeditionary Force, which was deployed to fight in World War I. When World War II happened, Glenn was already in college, but he quit and enlisted in the US Army Corps. He took various training courses to prepare himself to be the best air fighter. Eventually, he was posted in Hawaii, North China, and even in the Marshall Islands. He was also given the Air Medal with 18 Clusters for his service in various conflict areas and in Korea.
Given his combat experience, and while still in Korea, he applied to be a test pilot. He nearly lost his life when he tested FJ-3 Fury, but that did not deter Glenn from doing his best. After his stint ended, he logged a total of 9,000 hours, with 3,000 of them flying jets. He was prepared to take on bigger challenges.
NASA Career and Friendship 7
When President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the Space Race, he also established NASA, a civilian authority tasked with developing space technology. Its first initiative was Project Mercury, of which Glenn became part of the original seven crew members. The mission was to launch a man into orbit, get him back to Earth safely and assess his abilities while in space.
Glenn was eventually selected to be part of NASA’s first crewed orbital flight, Mercury-Atlas 6. Glenn and his backup, Scott Carpenter, completed their training in January 1962, but the flight was postponed, which gave them additional time to rehearse their maneuvers. Glenn showed a great degree of dedication during practice and flew 70 simulations, as well as reacted to 189 simulated system failures.
Also, as a matter of tradition, he named his spacecraft Friendship 7 and had this name hand-painted on the side of the capsule. On February 20, 1962, Glenn made history when he flew Friendship 7, orbited the Earth and became the first American space hero.
He has also been instrumental in providing feedback about cockpit design and spacecraft development. He probably derived most of his input from his experience in handling the automatic control system when he was in orbit. It could have been a failure caused by electricity or wiring.
Perhaps believing that the space battle was better left in the hands of young men, Glenn retired two years after the Friendship 7 flight and focused on becoming a politician instead. Given his great degree of dedication to his country, he saw it fit to run for Senate starting with the 1964 elections.
Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was instrumental in influencing Glenn and suggested that he run during the 1964 US Senate election in Ohio to challenge then-incumbent Stephen Young. Glenn went on to win four consecutive wins.
He was considered as one of the Senate’s experts when it came to scientific and technical matters, and some of his work includes the prevention of the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
From Chocolates to RC Cola
There are also other little known facts about the astronaut-politician. One is that he tried to run for the presidency in 1983 and even made investments in a media consultant to help him improve his speaking style. Also, right after Glenn retired as a colonel in 1965, RC Cola invited him to join their PR department. He eventually rose to the rank of President. We would think that colas would be his weakness, but it was revealed that he actually loved chocolates.
Glenn joined other fellow astronauts who went before him on December 8, 2016.
Cover Photo: NASA via Air & Space ,
Photo #1 – YouTube / CBS News,
Photo #2 – YouTube / NASA’s Kennedy Space Center
Photo #3 – YouTube / PBS NewsHour
Photo #4 – YouTube / John Glenn College of Public Affairs