- This article is about the astronaut. For the English film director, see John Glen.
John Herschel Glenn Jr. (born July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio) is a former American astronaut, Marine Corps fighter pilot, and politician. He was the third American to fly in space and the first American to orbit the earth. Later he served as a United States Senator from Ohio (1974 – 1999).
Early history and military career
Glenn grew up in Cambridge, Ohio and earned a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Muskingum College. He enrolled in the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in 1942 and was assigned to the Marines VMO-155 group in 1944. Glenn flew Corsairs over the Marshall Islands, specifically Maloelap, where he attacked anti-aircraft gunnery and dropped bombs. In 1945 Glenn was transferred to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, where he was promoted to captain by the war's end.
After World War II, Glenn flew patrol missions in North China, based in Guam, and in 1948 he became an flight instructor at Corpus Christi, Texas, after which he took an amphibious warfare course and was given a staff assignment, all the while seeking transfer to combat in Korea. He was sent to Korea with Marine Corps squadron VMF-311, and his frequent wing-man was Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox, an already famous professional baseball player (and fine Marine pilot) who had been drafted for the second time in ten years.
He returned to Patuxent River N.A.S., with an appointment to the Test Pilot School (class 12) after the Korean War. As a test pilot, he served as armament officer, flying planes to high altitudes and testing their cannon/machine guns. On July 16, 1957, Glenn completed the first supersonic transcontinental flight in a Vought F8U "Crusader." The California to New York flight took 3 hours, 23 minutes and 8 seconds. As Glenn passed over his hometown, a childhood neighbor reportedly ran to the Glenn house shouting "Johnny dropped a bomb! Johnny dropped a bomb!" as the supersonic boom shook the town.
In 1959 Glenn was assigned to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as one of the original group of Mercury astronauts for the Project Mercury. During this time, he remained an officer in the Marine Corps. He piloted the first American manned orbital mission aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. After completing three orbits, the "Mercury Atlas 6" mission, lasting 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds, Glenn was celebrated as a national hero, and received a ticker-tape parade reminiscent of Lindbergh. His fame and political gifts were noted by the Kennedys, and he became a personal friend of the Kennedy family; after the assassination of JFK, Jackie Kennedy asked Glenn to give the news to the Kennedy children on November 22, 1963.
Glenn resigned from NASA six weeks after the Kennedy assassination 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 the world of 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 John F. Kennedy himself or by NASA management. Yet Glenn resigned from the astronaut corps on January 30, 1964, well before even the first Gemini crew was assigned.
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 farthest 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 2004, final) person to have ever received multiple ticker-tape parades in his lifetime (as opposed to that of a sports team).
Life in politics
In 1970, John Glenn entered politics and represented Ohio for the Democratic Party in the Senate from 1974 until retiring in 1999. In 1964 he announced that he was running against incumbent Senator Stephen M. Young in the Democratic primary, but was forced to withdraw when he suffered a fall in his bathroom after attempting to adjust a heavy mirror. It fell on him, causing him to fall backwards and hit his head on the bathtub. He sustained a concussion and injured his inner ear. Recovery left him unable to campaign at that time.
In 1970, Glenn contested for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate; however, Glenn lost in the primary to 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. Metzenbaum had been appointed by Ohio governor John J. Gilligan to the other Ohio Senate seat to fill out the term of William B. Saxbe, who had resigned to become U.S. attorney general. In the 1974 general election, Glenn defeated Republican Mayor of Cleveland Ralph Perk. 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.
Glenn was one of the five U.S. Senators caught up in 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," but nothing worse. The association of his name with the scandal gave Republicans hope that he would be vulnerable in the 1992 campaign. Instead, Glenn handily defeated U.S. Rep. R. Michael DeWine to keep his seat. This 1992 re-election victory is, as of 2004, the last time a Democrat won a statewide race in Ohio; DeWine later won Metzenbaum's seat upon his retirement.
In 1998, Glenn declined to run for reelection. The Democratic party chose Mary Boyle to replace him, but she was defeated by then-Ohio Gov. George Voinovich.
Glenn also 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 movie about the original seven Mercury astronauts in which it was generally agreed that Glenn's character was portrayed in a pleasing and appealing manner. However, Glenn apparently turned his attention to national politics too early, neglecting the sensitive voters of the Iowa caucuses. Media attention turned to Mondale, Gary Hart, and Jesse Jackson, leaving Glenn the strongest also-ran. The 1984 presidential bid left Glenn with a substantial campaign debt that took 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 1978 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 and actor Fred Thompson. 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 two leaders of a Congressional committee seldom seen in recent years.
Raised in Cambridge, Ohio as well as New Concord, Ohio, Glenn married his childhood sweetheart, Anna Margaret Castor; they are the parents of two children, David and Carolyn. Both Glenn and his future wife, Annie, attended Muskingum College, in New Concord, Ohio. After his retirement, John and Annie Glenn founded the John Glenn Institute for Public Service & Public Policy at The Ohio State University, which moved to its new facility, the renovated Page Hall, in 2005. Glenn and his wife both suffer from varying degrees of hearing loss, and concern for this issue has always been one of Glenn's foremost interests. Glenn and Annie were both members of the Ohio delegation to the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
The night of the 1968 California presidential primary, when presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy was shot after delivering his victory speech, the Glenns were watching in the Kennedys' hotel suite. Glenn went to the hospital, where after three hours of surgery Robert Kennedy was in a coma but still alive. The Glenns were then asked to take five of the ten RFK children back to their home in Virginia. There, Glenn received the call that Robert Kennedy had died; it fell to him and a Kennedy neighbor to tell the children that their father was dead.
- John & Annie Glenn Historic Site and Home
- John Glenn Institute, The Ohio State University
- NASA Biography
- ESPN article on Glenn's reflections at Ted Williams' death