New Mexico Museum of Space History
The last surviving member of the Mercury 7 astronauts, John Glenn, has passed away at 95. Glenn died at The Ohio State University Wesner Medical Center in Columbus, where he was surrounded by family and his wife of 73 years, Annie Dec. 8. According to the Columbus Dispatch, his body will lie in state at the Ohio Statehouse for a day and a public memorial service will be held at Ohio State University’s Mershon Auditorium. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in a private service.
Museum Executive Director Christopher Orwoll said, “I was fortunate and honored to have spent an entire day with him and Annie back in 1995 in Norfolk. He was a gentleman and she was a delight. America has truly lost a great American hero today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
A native of Ohio, Glenn was a decorated Marine veteran who flew 149 combat missions in World War II and the Korean War. After the wars, he became a test pilot and in 1957 completed the first supersonic transcontinental flight from Los Angeles to New York in 3 hours, twenty three minutes and eight seconds. The story goes that when he flew over his hometown, the sonic boom that followed his jet sent a neighbor child scurrying to the Glenn home shouting, “Johnny dropped a bomb!” The flight earned him his fifth Distinguished Flying Cross and a promotion to Lieutenant colonel.
In 1959, Glenn was chosen as one of the original astronauts as part of Project Mercury and began training with the other six astronauts in May of that year. He became the third American in space aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962, and the first American to orbit the Earth.
John Glenn did not return to space again until 1998, when he earned the distinction of being the oldest person to go into space as a Payload Specialist aboard the Discovery STS-95 mission. The years in between his jaunts to space he spent mostly in politics. In fact, when he announced he was retiring from NASA in 1962 it was because he was running for Senate in Ohio at the urging of Bobby Kennedy. In his memoir “John Glenn” (Bantam/1993), Glenn wrote “The Democrats thought I was one of them, and Republicans said they were convinced I was a Republican.”He was actually a registered Independent at the time. Although he dropped out of that race due to an injury, he ran again in 1974 and won. He served four terms and several times was considered for the vice presidency.
The name John Glenn became a household word after his famous Friendship 7 flight. As America’s fledgling space program took flight, this redheaded freckled faced Ohioan became the man that every little boy wanted to grow up to be – a courageous fighter pilot, an heroic astronaut, a respected statesman, and a gentleman. Thousands upon thousands of letters were sent to Glenn’s home after his historic flight and one, from a Pennsylvania woman, summed it all up. She said, “I’m very happy that you made such a successful journey into space, John, but if you had continued on up to heaven, I know you would have been equally as welcome.”
John Glenn was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame at the Museum of Space History in 1977.
The New Mexico Museum of Space History is a division of the NM Department of Cultural Affairs. For more information, call (575) 437-2840 or toll free 1-877-333-6589 or visit the website at www.nmspacemuseum.org.