John Glenn was an Ohio “Home State” hero, an American hero and, in his golden years, an inspirational example of the benefits engaged and vigorous seniors bring to society.
Glenn was born in 1921 in Cambridge, raised in New Concord, was an alumnus of Muskingum College, served four distinguished terms as a U.S. Senator from Ohio, and was a long-time benefactor of the prestigious public affairs institute at Ohio State that bore his name.
He rocketed to fame in 1962, when became the first American to travel to space. He orbited Earth three times in a tiny Mercury 7 capsule, returned an international celebrity, and was even honored in New York with a “ticker-tape” parade.
After the mission, he rose to such prominence that President Kennedy prohibited Glenn from undertaking further missions.
Glenn’s value as an advocate for the space program, role model for young Americans, and informal goodwill ambassador was too great to allow the young astronaut to assume the risk of further missions, which even now are perilous, but at the time were more dangerous, because the technologies enabling the space program were developed on the fly.
Despite a love of high-stakes test-piloting and intentions to continue his fearless turn as a space-faring pioneer, Glenn yielded to the President’s request, and devoted the remainder of his life to serving the people of Ohio, and by extension, the United States itself.
But, in 1998, at the age of 77, while still a sitting U.S. Senator, Glenn again began preparations for another trip to outer space; but this time, he would go far beyond low-Earth orbit, and the voyage would extend well past three circuits.
That year, he volunteered to serve on the crew of the space shuttle Discovery. During the mission, Glenn, his fellow astronauts, and their earth-bound scientist-counterparts collected data on the effects of low-gravity, space travel, and high-stress conditions on the elderly, using Glenn himself as the test subject.
In addition to yielding valuable scientific data, participation in the mission earned Glenn the distinction of being the oldest human to have traveled in space. To the last, setting the rule by which individuals’ contributions to their communities may be measured—a tally taken in years and, as his later undertakings attest, the span of a life lived, whole.
Sen. Glenn died Thursday, December 8, 2016, in Columbus. He was 95 years old.
Further reading on Glenn’s life and impact:
- Glenn’s Nasa profile
- New York Times obituary
- Twitter reaction
- Congressional biography
- The John Glenn Story (1962)
- Columbus Dispatch retrospective
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