Glenn in 1962. Image: NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA-GRC)
Astronaut and former US senator John Herschel Glenn Jr., the last surviving member of the famous Mercury Seven, has died at the age of 95. Glenn was reportedly hospitalized over a week ago at the Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, for an undisclosed condition. According to The Columbus Dispatch, he passed away on Thursday with his loved ones present, including Annie Glenn, his wife of 73 years, and their children and grandchildren.
It’s hard to overstate the impact that Glenn had on US history; his achievements are numerous. Born in Cambridge, Ohio, in 1921, he distinguished himself as a natural leader and war hero in both World War II and the Korean War. In 1957, while serving as a Marine Corps pilot, he broke the transcontinental speed record in a mission called Project Bullet.
The Mercury Seven in 1961. Image: NASA
NASA quickly recognized that he had “the right stuff,” a phrase that would later become deeply interlinked with the Mercury Seven, the agency’s first group of candidate astronauts. With the 1962 flight of Friendship 7, which Glenn piloted solo, he became the first American ever to orbit Earth, the third American to complete a spaceflight, and the fifth human to venture into space. Glenn’s legendary calm-under-pressure is emblematized by his comment on experiencing weightlessness for the first time: “Zero g, and I feel fine.”
In 1998, at 77 years old, he became the oldest person to fly in space during the Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-95.
READ MORE: How John Glenn Lucked Out of This World
Glenn also had an active career in politics: He served as a US senator (D-Ohio) for 24 years between 1974 to 1999, and ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984. He was the chief author of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978. Over his storied lifetime, Glenn was awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, along with many other honors. NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio is named for him.
There’s no doubt that Glenn’s death marks the end of an incredible and significant era, and it is heartbreaking to bid farewell to the last of the Mercury Seven. But like his fellow Project Mercury teammates, his legacy will live on to influence new generations in powerful ways. As Glenn himself put it: “The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds and to advance the kind of science, math and technology education that will help youngsters take us to the next phase of space travel.”
You heard the man. Let’s make him proud.
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