The last surviving member of the original “Mercury Seven” astronauts, passed away today, December 8, 2016. John H. Glenn, Jr. was a decorated Lt. Col. in the US Marine corps, flew F-9s and an F-86 in combat during the Korean War, where he earned the nickname “Magnet Ass” for getting his planes thoroughly shot up. The photo at right shows Lt. Col. Glenn with his wife Annie during that time period in the early 1950s.
By the late 1950s, Glenn distinguished himself as a test pilot at the infamous NAS “Pax” River facility in Maryland, eventually earning a fifth Distinguished Flying Cross for his accomplishments in jet aircraft. It was there that he was recruited as the most prominent and celebrated member of the original Mercury astronauts. At that time, in 1959, the astronaut corps worked and trained out of the NASA Langley facility on the grounds of Langley Field in Hampton, VA, which was already home to many of the nation’s military test pilots. The following two photos are of Glenn and a few of the Mercury pilots at Langley Field, involved with some of the engineering work and training early in the program. In the first photo, Glenn is on the left.
A year after the above photo was taken, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. He circled the Earth three times during a flight lasting almost 5 hours. Glenn was the third American in space and the fifth human being in space.
Glenn resigned from NASA in early 1964 to enter politics from his native state of Ohio, and he announced his intention of running for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat. About a month later, he withdrew his candidacy after suffering a concussion in the bathtub. Being a devout Presbyterian who had survived one of the most dangerous military and space flight careers without a scratch, probably due to divine intervention, the head injury possibly alerted Glenn that God clearly didn’t want any more democrats in the Senate. Nevertheless, he recovered and persisted, and he ended up serving in the Senate until 1999.
John Glenn achieved many things in his life, but one of the more singular honors was a return to flight aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-95 mission in 1998 at the age of 77. He had lobbied NASA for two years to allow him to go back to space as a mission analyst for “geriatric studies.” He was ultimately granted permission by President Bill Clinton as a favor, basically making it a shameless boondoggle to waste taxpayer money, proving that he really was a natural Democrat, even if a fairly harmless and honorable one.