Washington, Dec 9 (IANS) A remarkable journey has just come to a stop as John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth and who later became the oldest person to fly in space, breathed his last on Thursday. He was 95.
“The last of America’s first astronauts has left us, but propelled by their example we know that our future here on Earth compels us to keep reaching for the heavens. On behalf of a grateful nation, Godspeed, John Glenn,” President Barack Obama said in a statement on Friday.
In 1959, NASA picked the first group of astronauts — seven men who would fly on the Mercury spacecraft. NASA called these men the “Mercury Seven”.
Glenn was one of them and, in 1962, he became the first American to orbit Earth.
Spending about five hours in space, Glenn — who also served four terms as a US senator from Ohio — made three orbits around Earth on the spacecraft that he named “Friendship 7”. His mission showed that the Mercury spacecraft worked in space.
His flight on Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962, showed the world that America was a serious contender in the space race with the Soviet Union. It also made Glenn an instant hero, NASA said in a profile of the space icon.
“When John Glenn blasted off from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas rocket in 1962, he lifted the hopes of a nation. And when his Friendship 7 spacecraft splashed down a few hours later, the first American to orbit the Earth reminded us that with courage and a spirit of discovery there’s no limit to the heights we can reach together,” Obama said.
Glenn was born on July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio. He was in college when World War II started. Glenn left school to fight in the war and became a Marine pilot. Later, he also fought in the Korean War. After Korea, he became an airplane test pilot before becoming one of NASA’s original Mercury 7 astronauts.
“While that first orbit was the experience of a lifetime, Glenn, who also had flown combat missions in both World War II and the Korean War as a Marine aviator, continued to serve his country as a four-term Senator from Ohio, as a trusted statesman, and an educator,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said on the passing of the icon.
“In 1998, at the age of 77, he became the oldest human to venture into space as a crew member on the Discovery space shuttle — once again advancing our understanding of living and working in space,” Bolden added.
On Discovery he participated in a series of tests on the ageing process. The ageing population was one focus of his work as a US senator, according to NASA.
Paying his tributes to the American hero, Obama said that Glenn spent his life breaking barriers.
“With John’s passing, our nation has lost an icon and Michelle and I have lost a friend. John spent his life breaking barriers, from defending our freedom as a decorated Marine Corps fighter pilot in World War II and Korea, to setting a transcontinental speed record, to becoming, at age 77, the oldest human to touch the stars,” Obama said.
Glenn, who died at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, was considered one of the Senate’s leading experts on technical and scientific matters, and won wide respect for his work to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, NASA noted.