Today we lost a pioneer of manned space flight. John Glenn. The first American to orbit the Earth. A highly decorated veteran pilot of World War II and the Korean War. He was a 4-term Senator from 1974 to 1999. He returned to space once more aboard the shuttle Discovery for STS-95. Some might say for 2016 to leave our heroes alone, but they’ve all got to go at some point. You might argue that 2016 has taken its share of notable people from us, but Glenn lived more than most of us can dare to dream.
75 years ago with the attack on Pearl Harbor, Glenn quit college to enlist. He was already a licensed pilot and ended up flying for the Navy and Marine Corps. He flew with Red Sox legend Ted Williams in the Korean War. In all, over two wars, Glenn flew 149 combat missions. He continued to work as a test pilot after the wars. In 1957 Glenn set a record for the first supersonic transcontinental flight from California to New York. He averaged a supersonic speed over the course of the flight. Note that he had to refuel 3 times in-air with a reduced speed that was below 300 mph. Also note that supersonic flight is greatly dependent on temperature, but the entire flight time was 3 hours 23 minutes and 8.3 seconds. Above all else, Glenn was a pilot.
Being a test pilot with a large amount of flight time was one of the key factors in NASA’s search for their first astronauts. Glenn made the final cut and became part of the Mercury program. America’s first manned spaceflight program in the Space Race. The Soviet Union beat America at putting a man into space and orbit with Yuri Gagarin on Vostok 1. Fellow Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard would be the first American in space less than a month after Gagarin did. Glenn’s mission, Mercury-Atlas 6, launched the capsule Friendship 7 and was the 3rd manned spaceflight for NASA. On February 20, 1962, John Glenn lifted off aboard an Atlas rocket and for a total 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 second flight time. He completed 3 orbits of the Earth, and upon entering orbit reported back to NASA, “Zero G, and I feel fine.
I don’t know what you could say about a day in which you have seen four beautiful sunsets.
He would later run for office with a few unsuccessful attempts before winning in 1974. Over 25 years, Glenn would hold the office of Senator of Ohio, his home state. Glenn ran President in 1984 and was a potential Vice Presidential nomination in 1984, ’88 and ’92. He was chief author of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978, an important part of controlling nuclear arms while still allowing use for energy. He would return to space in 1998 for a 9 day flight aboard Discovery. He participated in a few studies regarding the effects of space on the human body, especially one of his age at the time. He offered a unique perspective on weightlessness. He has the longest stint between trips, 36 years since he flew to space aboard Friendship 7.
Among numerous awards and commendations, upon returning to Earth a second time, he’s one of 10 people (aside championship sports stars/teams) to receive a ticker-tape parade twice. John Glenn was 95.
To me, there is no greater calling…If I can inspire young people to dedicate themselves to the good of mankind, I’ve accomplished something.
(image credits: NASA)