John Herschel Glenn Jr. (born July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio) is a former United States Senator who first rose to fame as the first American to orbit the Earth as an astronaut in NASA's Mercury program. Glenn began his career as a Marine Corps fighter pilot before joining the Mercury Seven, NASA's original astronaut group. He orbited the Earth aboard Friendship 7 in 1962. After retiring from NASA, he served in the Senate from 1974 to 1999, serving as a Democrat and representing the state of Ohio.
He was honored with a Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978 and was inducted into the Astronauts Hall of Fame in 1990. He became the oldest person to fly in space and the only person to fly on the first and most recent US space programs (Mercury and Shuttle programs) when, at the age of 77 in 1998, he flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-95). Glenn and M. Scott Carpenter are the last surviving members of the Mercury Seven .
Glenn was finally assigned to VMF-311 flying the F9F Panther and eventually took part in 63 combat missions with the Marines during the Korean War. It was during this time that Glenn earned the nickname "Magnet Ass", for his ability to attract flak. On two occasions he brought his jet back to base with over 250 holes in it. During his time in Korea, Glenn also served for a time alongside Ted Williams, a future hall of fame baseball player for the Boston Red Sox. On his second tour he flew with the United States Air Force on an interservice exchange. Flying 27 missions in the F-86 Sabre, he shot down three MiG-15s near the Yalu River in the last nine days of the war.
He returned to NAS Pax River, with an appointment to the Test Pilot School (class 12). As a test pilot, he served as armament officer, flying planes to high altitude and testing their cannon/machine guns. On July 16, 1957, Glenn completed the first supersonic transcontinental flight in a Vought F8U-1 Crusader. The flight from NAS Los Alamitos, California to Floyd Bennett Field, New York took 3 hours, 23 minutes and 8.4 seconds. As Glenn passed over his hometown, a child in the neighborhood reportedly ran to the Glenn house shouting "Johnny dropped a bomb! Johnny dropped a bomb! Johnny dropped a bomb!" as the sonic boom shook the town. Project Bullet, as the mission was called, provided both the first transcontinental flight to average supersonic speed (despite three in-flight refuelings during which speeds dropped below 300 mph), and the first continuous transcontinental panoramic photograph of the United States. Glenn was awarded his fifth Distinguished Flying Cross for the mission.
Although NASA did not publish the frequencies for the communications with space, according to a TV documentary two Italian radio enthusiasts, the Judica Cordiglia brothers, used a photograph of an American space ship to calculate the length of the antenna. They found the frequency and were the first individuals to record the voice of Glenn from space.
Glenn resigned from NASA six weeks after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to run for office in his home state of Ohio. In 1965, Glenn retired as a Colonel from the USMC and entered the business world as an executive for Royal Crown Cola. He reentered politics later on. Some accounts of Glenn's years at NASA suggest that Glenn was prevented from flying in Gemini or Apollo missions, either by President Kennedy, himself, or by NASA management, on the grounds that the subsequent loss of a national hero of such stature would seriously harm or even end the manned space program. Yet Glenn resigned from the astronaut corps on January 30, 1964, well before even the first Gemini crew was assigned.
Three decades later, after serving 24 years in the Senate, Glenn lifted off for a second space flight on October 29, 1998, on Space Shuttle Discovery's STS-95, in order to study the effects of space flight on the elderly. At age 77, Glenn became the oldest person ever to go into space. Glenn's participation in the nine-day mission was criticized by some in the space community as a junket for a politician. Others noted that Glenn's flight offered valuable research on weightlessness and other aspects of space flight on the same person at two points in life thirty-five years apart — by far the longest interval between space flights by the same person. Upon the safe return of the STS-95 crew, Glenn (and his crewmates) received another ticker-tape parade, making him the ninth (and, as of 2007, final) person to have ever received multiple ticker-tape parades in his lifetime (as opposed to that of a sports team).
The NASA John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland, Ohio is named after him. Colonel Glenn Highway, which runs by Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Wright State University near Dayton, Ohio, and John Glenn High School in his hometown of New Concord, Ohio were named for him as well.
Glenn remained close to the Kennedy family and was with Sen. Robert F. Kennedy when Kennedy was assassinated.
In 1970, Glenn contested for the Democratic nomination for U. S. Senate; Glenn was defeated in the primary by fellow Democrat Howard Metzenbaum, who went on to lose the general election race to Robert Taft Jr. In the bitterly-fought 1974 Democratic primary rematch, Glenn defeated Metzenbaum, who had earlier been appointed by Ohio governor John J. Gilligan to fill out the Senate term of William B. Saxbe, who had resigned to become U. S. attorney general. Metzenbaum was running to retain the seat to which he had been appointed. In the 1974 general election, Glenn defeated Republican Mayor of Cleveland, Ralph Perk, beginning a Senate career that would continue until 1999. In 1980, Glenn won re-election to the seat, defeating Republican challenger Jim Betts. In 1986, Glenn defeated challenger U.S. Representative Tom Kindness.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Glenn and Metzenbaum (who was elected to the Senate in 1976) had strained relations, even though they were both from the same party and the same state. There was a thaw in 1983 when Metzenbaum endorsed Glenn for president, and in 1988, in response to a charge by Metzenbaum's opponent George Voinovich that Metzenbaum was soft on child pornography, Glenn appeared in a television ad in support of Metzenbaum.
In 1990, Glenn was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Glenn was one of the five U. S. Senators caught up with Lincoln Savings and the Keating Five Scandal after accepting a $200,000 contribution from Charles Keating. Glenn and Republican Senator John McCain were the only Senators exonerated. The Senate Commission found that Glenn had exercised "poor judgment." The association of his name with the scandal gave Republicans hope that he would be vulnerable in the 1992 campaign. Instead, Glenn handily defeated Lieutenant Governor R. Michael DeWine to keep his seat. This 1992 re-election victory was the last time a Democrat won a statewide race in Ohio until 2006; DeWine later won Metzenbaum's seat upon his retirement.
In 1998, Glenn declined to run for re-election. The Democratic party chose Mary Boyle to replace him, but she was defeated by then-Ohio Gov. George Voinovich.
Glenn made a bid to run as Vice President with Jimmy Carter in 1976, but Carter selected Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. Glenn also mounted a bid to be the 1984 Democratic Presidential candidate. Early on, Glenn polled well, coming in a strong second to Mondale. It was also surmised that he would be aided by the almost-simultaneous release of The Right Stuff, a film about the original seven Mercury astronauts in which it was generally agreed that Glenn's character was portrayed in an appealing manner. However, Glenn thought it would be bad form to capitalize on this kind of publicity, and didn't make much of these achievements in the period leading up to the Iowa caucuses. Media attention turned to Mondale, Gary Hart, and Jesse Jackson, and by the time his campaign started playing up The Right Stuff for the New Hampshire primary, it was already too late. His failed 1984 presidential bid left Glenn with over $3 million in campaign debt that took over 20 years to pay off.
During his time in the Senate, he was chief author of the 1978 Nonproliferation Act, served as chairman of the Committee on Governmental Affairs from 1987 until 1995, sat on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees and the Special Committee on Aging. Once Republicans regained control of the Senate, Glenn also served as the ranking minority member on a special Senate investigative committee chaired by Tennessee senator Fred Dalton Thompson that looked into alleged illegal donations by China to U.S. political campaigns for the 1996 election. There was considerable acrimony between the two very high-profile senators during the life of this committee, which reached a level of public disagreement between the five leaders of a Congressional committee seldom seen in recent years.
Glenn is part of the Glenn-Macintosh clan of Scotland. In 1963, Glenn received a letter from a young girl from Sheffield, England named Anne Glenn. The letter, congratulating him on his orbit around the Earth, enclosed a family tree showing that Anne's father, George Arthur Thomas Glenn, and John Glenn were cousins.
Glenn is an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church.
John Glenn's great-nephew, renowned camera operator Glenn Thomas of New York, NY, was named after him, having been born three days after Glenn's historic first flight into space.
Glenn's former New Concord home has been made into an education center, teaching American history beginning in 1944.
On August 4, 2006, Glenn and his wife were injured in an automobile accident on I-270 near Columbus, Ohio and were subsequently hospitalized. They were released on August 6, after being treated for their injuries. Glenn suffered a fractured sternum and a "very sore chest", as remarked by Glenn. The driver of the other car was not injured, but Glenn was cited for failure to yield the right-of-way. Mrs. Glenn was treated for minor injuries.