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Over and out: John Glenn, pioneering US astronaut, dies at 95

John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, has sadly passed away.

Glenn was a true pioneer, making it through NASA’s rigorous selection process to be named one of the Mercury Seven group who became America’s first astronauts. He first entered the public eye in 1962, at a time when the Russians seemed to be well ahead in the space race.

America had managed to launch two men to just the fringes of space, while two Russians had already completed full orbits of the Earth. But on February 20, Glenn boarded Friendship 7, the craft that was take him around the Earth three times, and cement his place in history as the first American to orbit the Earth.

From outer space Glenn reported, “Zero G and I feel fine. Capsule is turning around. Oh, that view is tremendous.”

When he landed it was to a hero’s welcome. Glenn was invited to the White House where he met with President John F. Kennedy and was paraded through the streets of New York City. He became a symbol of renewed hope for America’s space program, and a light in the darkness of the Cold War.

Despite his success however, it would be a long time before Glenn would return to space. Frustrated at NASA’s reluctance to grant him a new assignment, he resigned in 1964, later learning that he had been deemed too valuable to risk another flight. In 1974 he was elected as the Democratic representative of Ohio in the US Senate, and office he held until 1999.

But Glenn wasn’t done with the great beyond. In 1988, at age 77 he was launched aboard the Discovery to become the oldest person to be launched into space. On this nine-day mission he served as a payload specialist but spent most of his time examining the parallel effects of spaceflight on the human body and the natural aging process.

John Glenn taking photos on Discovery Mission

He offered himself as a human test subject to examine the effects of bone-mass loss and changes to the immune, muscular and cardiovascular systems which happen in space. While his auspicious return to space drew criticisms of favouritism it also attracted huge crowds and renewed a great deal of public interest in the space program.

Even after his second journey to space Glenn remained humble, and awed by his own experience. On his Discovery mission he said, “To look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith. I wish there were words to describe what it’s like.”

In the wake of Glenn’s death he has been remembered as a pioneer, a hero and an inspiration. Godspeed John Glenn, may you rest in peace.

About the author

Lachlan is a Sydney-based writer and editor. He breathes pop culture and has many opinions that range from unfounded to ‘Yeah, I can see that’. You can catch his misguided thought patterns @lurkenmackenzie

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