John Glenn dies at 95


(RNN) - The first American to orbit Earth has died.

John Glenn, the last surviving member of NASA's original astronauts - known as the Mercury Seven - and a former Ohio senator, passed away in Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center, the university confirmed.

He was surrounded by his family in his final hours. Glenn recently was hospitalized at The James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State.

He was also the oldest person to fly in space and the only astronaut to fly in both the Mercury and space shuttle programs. Glenn was also the oldest living former U.S. senator.

John Herschel Glenn Jr was born July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, OH. Glenn joined the U.S. Navy in March 1942 to train as a pilot following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Upon certification, he joined the Marines as a fighter pilot and flew 59 combat missions in the South Pacific. After the war, he became a flight instructor but returned to service in the Korean War where he flew 63 missions before transferring to the Air Force and flying 27 additional combat missions.

He was credited with shooting down three enemy fighters in the closing days of the Korean War.

Glenn then became a Navy test pilot and set a transcontinental speed record in 1957 by flying from Los Angeles to New York in three hours, 23 minutes in the first such flight that averaged supersonic speed.

Glenn applied to be a NASA astronaut and was selected as part of the first group of seven astronauts. Glenn was the oldest of the seven men selected and was the last surviving member. He was also the only one of the seven chosen to have been a Marine.

He became the fifth person in space, the third American in space and the first American to orbit the Earth on Feb. 20, 1962. He completed three orbits in just under five hours. He was preceded in space by Americans Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom. He was third person to orbit the Earth after Soviet cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov.

Upon his return, Glenn met President John F. Kennedy and was given a ticket-tape parade in New York City. He retired from NASA in 1964 and announced plans to run for U.S. Senate. He was forced to drop out of the Senate race later that year due to an injury and ran again in 1970, losing the Democratic primary.

He won a Senate seat in 1974, and held the office until his retirement in 1999.

Glenn was a candidate for the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1976, but the bid went to Walter Mondale. He ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 to challenge incumbent Republican Ronald Reagan, but lost the primary to Mondale. Reagan defeated Mondale in a rout.

While serving as a senator, Glenn returned to space Oct. 29, 1998, on board Space Shuttle Discovery, becoming the oldest person in space at age 77. The primary reason for his trip was to study the effect of weightlessness on the elderly and compare its effects relative to those he experienced as a younger man.

He was given another ticker-tape parade upon his return, making him the last individual to receive multiple parades. It was also the last ticker-tape parade for something other than an athletic championship.

During his NASA career, Glenn was vocal about excluding women from the program in a hearing in front of Congress. NASA did not explicitly ban women from the space program, but the policy of accepting only military pilots served as an effective ban. He was also an adamant opponent of commercial space tourism, saying space travel should be reserved for scientific purposes.

He was also a critic of the space shuttle program being discontinued and expressed concern that scientific research would be significantly delayed as a result.

Glenn was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Space Medal of Honor and was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame, Astronaut Hall of Fame and International Space Hall of Fame. NASA's John H. Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH, was named in his honor as well as a stretch of Interstate 480 that runs nearby.

Glenn had a son and a daughter with his wife, Ann Margaret, whom he married in 1943.