On February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. His successful mission on Friendhip 7 renewed American confidence in our technological abilities. It was a major achievement during the competitive Cold War space race with the Soviet Union.
On this 56th anniversary of that Project Mercury mission, it seems appropriate to pay tribute to Glenn and the NASA crew who made that moment happen. Loren Grush and Andrew Liptak retrace his remarkable history from World War II (WWII) Marine fighter pilot to his contribution in the space program and finally the Senate in a piece for The Verge entitled “Godspeed.”
After the Korean War, where Glenn also flew as a combat pilot, he went on the study at the Naval Academy in Maryland. He was chosen as one of seven out of the 508 test pilot graduates NASA had initially considered. He was, in fact, the only applicant without a college degree. Glenn left Muskingum College where he studied engineering to serve with the Marines during WWII.
On that historic day in February, Glenn and NASA’s expedition took nearly five hours to complete three orbits around the Earth. Glenn came away from that flight with a renewed enthusiasm for the opportunities that the space exploration program presented. He continued to work for NASA as an advisor on the Apollo missions, but left in 1964 to pursue his career in the Senate.
Glenn wasn’t initially successful in his run for the Ohio Senate seat in 1964. He did eventually accomplish his goal in 1974 and served as a senator until 1999. After petitioning NASA for two years to permit him to orbit the Earth once again, Glenn became the oldest person to do so in 1998. In an interview for Forbes to promote his new book, The Sky Below, Scott Parazynski discusses his experience on that mission as Glenn’s personal physician.
“He had such a sharp mind and a deep love for his country. . . I’ll always remember him at my side, beaming and grinning with life up on the flight deck of Discovery, staring out with awe back at Planet Earth.” John Glenn recognized and appreciated each of his opportunities as gifts. His enthusiastic determination was a gift to America.