America lost one of its greatest and most beloved heroes on Thursday, December 8 when former astronaut and United States Senator John Glenn died at the age of 95.
Officials at The Ohio State University, where Glenn was being treated at the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital, announced his passing. A hospital spokesman, Hank Wilson, said on Wednesday that Glenn was hospitalized “more than a week ago.”
The reasoning behind his hospitalization was not disclosed. Glenn suffered a stroke two years ago following heart valve replacement surgery.
Glenn was the last surviving member of America’s first group of astronauts, the Mercury 7. Aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth (circling three times) in 1962. The heroic feat was a major step toward accomplishing President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade and earned Glenn a ticker-tape parade in New York City and the status of a national hero.
Outpourings of love and condolences flooded social media as news of Glenn’s death spread.
“We are saddened by the loss of Sen. John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth. A true American hero. Godspeed, John Glenn. Ad astra,” read the first of numerous tweets on the NASA Twitter account.
“Today we lost a great pioneer of air and space in John Glenn. He was a hero and inspired generations of future explorers. He will be missed,” tweeted President-elect Donald Trump.
“John Glenn is, and always will be, Ohio’s ultimate hometown hero, and his passing today is an occasion for all of us to grieve,” read part of a statement from Ohio Governor John Kasich.
President Barack Obama released a statement, which read in part:
“John always had the right stuff, inspiring generations of scientists, engineers and astronauts who will take us to Mars and beyond–not just to visit, but to stay. Today, the people of Ohio remember a devoted public servant who represented his fellow Buckeyes in the U.S. Senate for a quarter century and who fought to keep America a leader in science and technology. Our thoughts are with his beloved wife Annie, their children John and Carolyn and the entire Glenn family. 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 grew up in the Buckeye state where he met his childhood sweetheart, Annie Castor. The two wed at the height of World War II in 1943 and remained married until his death.
Fascinated with flying at an early age, he enlisted in the Naval Aviation Cadet Program following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. As a Marine fighter pilot, he flew 149 combat missions in WWII and the Korean War, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross six times.
After the war, Glenn became a test pilot before becoming an astronaut and a symbol for Kennedy’s “New Frontier.”
Glenn developed a friendship with the late President and, following a stint as an executive at Royal Crown Cola, entered politics. Representing the Democratic party, he won a seat in the U.S. Senate where he served for 24 years until his retirement. He briefly ran for President in 1984.
In 1998, at 77, he became the oldest person in space as he joined the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery, where he served as a payload specialist. NASA used the nine-day mission as a study of the aging process.
Glenn received numerous accolades throughout his distinguished career. Most recently he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2011 (alongside fellow astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
It’s impossible to sum up the life of someone as accomplished and revered as John Glenn, but noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson gave it a shot when he tweeted:
“Aren’t many Heroes left: WWII & Korean War Fighter Pilot. Marine Colonel. NASA Astronaut. Senator. Married 73 yrs. John Glenn RIP 1921-2016”
John Glenn’s body will lie in state at the Ohio Statehouse for one day and a public memorial will follow at The Ohio State University. A private burial is planned at Arlington National Cemetery.
Glenn is survived by his wife of 73 years, Annie, two children and two grandchildren.