Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Godspeed John Glenn

John Glenn, one of the United States' original astronauts (the Mercury Seven), the first American to orbit the planet, and the oldest person ever to be in space, died on December 8 2016 at the age of 95.

John Glenn was born on July 18 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio. He grew up in New Concord, Ohio. He graduated from New Concord High School in 1939 and then studied engineering at Muskingum College in New Concord. In 1941 he earned a private pilot's licence. Because of the United States' entry into World War II, John Glenn did not complete his last year of college. In March 1942 he enlisted as a United States Navy aviation cadet. His preflight training was initially at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and was continued at Naval Air Station Olathe in Kansas. It was in Kansas that he made his first solo flight in a military aircraft. He received advanced training at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. It was while he was at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi that he transferred to the United States Marine Corps. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant upon completion of his training.

Lt. Glenn initially served stateside, first flying R4D transport planes with  Marine Squadron VMJ-353 and then the F4F Wildcat fighter and later the F4U Corsair with Marine Observation Squadron 155.  He was promoted to First Lieutenant in October 1943 and was shipped out to Hawaii. Beginning in June 1944 he was stationed in the Marshall Islands. He flew 59 combat missions and earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and ten Air Medals.

John Glenn returned to the United States in 1945 and was promoted to Captain that July. He served at various Marine and Naval stations until 1946 when he volunteered to serve in the occupation of North China. He served with VMF-218, which was stationed at at Nanyuan Field, near Beijing. He returned to the United States in 1948.

Afterwards Captain Glenn served as a flight instructor at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. He went through a six month course at the Amphibious Warfare School at the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia in 1951.  Afterwards he served as part of the staff of the Commandant, Marine Corps Schools. He was promoted to Major in July 1952.

It was in October 1952 that Major Glenn was ordered to South Korea to serve in the Korean War. He was assigned to VMF-311 and flew 63 combat missions. He was awarded two more Distinguished Flying Cross medals and eight more Air Medals. He was still in Korea when he applied for flight test training. It was in January 1954 that he reported to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. He graduated that July.

From 1956 to 1957 John Glenn served with the Fighter Design Branch of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, D.C. During this period he also attended the University of Maryland. It was on  July 16 1957 that he made the first supersonic transcontinental flight, flying from Naval Air Station Los Angeles to  Floyd Bennett Field in New York. Because of this he received a fifth  Distinguished Flying Cross. In April 1959 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

It was in 1958 that John Glenn applied to become an astronaut with NASA. In 1959 he was selected as one of the Mercury Seven, the first group of seven astronauts. Lt. Col. Glenn was the oldest of the Mercury Seven and he would also be the group's last living member. John Glenn would have input into layout of the cockpits of spacecraft and the function of their controls for both the Mercury and Apollo programmes. He was a backup pilot for both Mercury-Redstone 3 (the first American manned space flight, on which Alan Shepard was the pilot) and Mercury-Redstone 4 (the second American manned space flight, on which Gus Grissom was the pilot). It was on February 20 1962 that Mercury-Atlas 6, the third American space flight, took place. As the pilot of the mission John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. In all, he orbited the planet three times.

In the wake of his historic flight, John Glenn became a national hero. He received a ticker tape parade and President John F. Kennedy awarded him the NASA Distinguished Service Medal. Unfortunately, as a national hero, it seemed unlikely he would return to space as he was too valuable and, at 42 years old, it was unlikely he would be chosen to go to the moon. On January 16 1964 he resigned from NASA and announced that he was running for the U. S. Senate seat for his home state of Ohio. Hie withdrew his candidacy on March 30 1964 after he had slipped in his bath tub and suffered a severe concussion that February.  On January 1 1965 he retired from the Marines as a Colonel.

Afterwards John Glenn worked as an executive with Royal Crown Cola. He ran for the Senate again in 1970 and was narrowly defeated in the primary by Howard Metzenbaum. In 1974 he ran for the Senate again. He won the primary and then won the seat that November. John Glenn served as a Senator for Ohio until 1999, making him the longest serving Senator from the state.

John Glenn ran for President in 1984, but withdrew early in the primaries after failing to receive sufficient votes.

It was on January 16 1998 that it was announced that John Glenn would be part of the crew of STS-95, a space shuttle mission aboard the Discovery. Discovery launched on October 28 1998 and returned to Earth on November 7 1998. Senator Glenn served as a Payload Specialist on the flight. Tests were run on him and compared to the younger astronauts, and he was also in charge of the photography and videography for the mission. At 77 years of age, John Glenn became the oldest person to fly in space. Upon his return he was given another ticker tape parade.

It was in 1998 that he founded the John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at The Ohio State University, a school meant to encourage public service. In 2006 it was merged with the School of Public Policy and Management at OSU to become the John Glenn School of Public Affairs. '

It was on April 6 1943 that he married his childhood sweetheart, Anna "Annie" Castor. The two remained married until his death.

There is very little I can say about John Glenn that has not been said before. He was a Marine who served his country bravely in two wars. He was the first man to make a supersonic transcontinental flight. He was the first American to orbit the Earth. He was the oldest person ever to fly in space. Arguably any one of these things would make John Glenn a hero. In my mind what made John Glenn particularly heroic is that he was always a very modest man. He never bragged of any of these accomplishments, any one of which was greater than the average person could ever dream of attempting. What is more, he lived his life in service of others, as a Marine, as an astronaut, and as a statesman. In the wake of John Glenn's death, Katherine Johnson, the mathematician who crunched the numbers that made the early space missions possible, said of him, "A good man has left Earth for the last time. John Glenn's life will long be remembered for his time in space, his courage and his service to all Americans." I don't think anyone could have said it any better.

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