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Ad Astra, John Glenn (1921-2016)

Ad Astra, John Glenn (1921-2016)

An astronaut. 

A pilot. 

A husband. 

A father. 

A United States Senator.

An American hero. 

An original.


John Glenn (1921-2016) was all those things and more. When he rocketed into space on Feb. 20, 1962, to become the first American to orbit Earth, the flight set the nation on course to meet ever-more ambitious goals.

The life and career of Senator Glenn eclipses those of many. In spite of his accomplishments, he was a humble and gracious man (and 4-term U.S. senator).

During Glenn’s first flight, a scheduled 30-minute test to determine whether Glenn could fly the
capsule manually became a matter of life and death when the automatic
system malfunctioned after the first orbit.


“I went to manual control and continued in that mode during the second
and third orbits, and during re-entry,” Glenn recalled later. 

“The malfunction just forced me to prove very rapidly what had been planned over a longer period of time.”

Another problem seemed even more serious – telemetry indicated the
spacecraft’s heat shield was loose. It seemed possible that Glenn and
the spacecraft would be incinerated on re-entry. 

Glenn left the retrorocket pack in place to steady the heat shield
during re-entry. “It made for a very spectacular re-entry from where I
was sitting,” he said. Big chunks of the burning material came flying by
the window.


He wasn’t sure whether the flaming debris was the rocket pack or the
heat shield breaking up. “Fortunately,” he told an interviewer,“ it was
the rocket pack – or I wouldn’t be answering these questions.”


In the words of President Obama, who awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012: “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. 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 …

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.”


Glenn left the Astronaut Corps in 1964 and resigned from the Marine Corps in 1965. And, after some time in private industry ran for and was elected ti the U.S. Senate in 1974, carrying all 88 counties of Ohio. He was
re-elected in 1980 with the largest margin in Ohio history. Ohio returned him to the Senate for a third term in 1986. In 1992 he was elected again, becoming the first
popularly elected senator from his state to win four consecutive terms.

During his last term he was the ranking member of both the Governmental
Affairs Committee and the Subcommittee on Air/Land Forces in the Senate
Armed Services Committee. He also served on the Select Committee on
Intelligence and the Special Committee on Aging. He 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.


In 1998, Glenn flew on the STS-95 Discovery shuttle flight, a 9-day
mission during which the crew supported a variety of research payloads
including deployment of the Spartan solar-observing spacecraft, the
Hubble Space Telescope Orbital Systems Test Platform, and Glenn’s
investigations on space flight and the aging process.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden remembers, “Senator
Glenn’s legacy is one of risk and accomplishment, of history created and duty
to country carried out under great pressure with the whole world watching.”

Today, we honor him for all that he stood for and continues to stand for – grace under pressure, humility, ability, strength. 

Godspeed, John Glenn.

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