Traversing Space-Time: A Glimpse at John Glenn’s Stellar Existence

“I don’t know what you can say about a day when you see four beautiful sunsets…. This is a little unusual, I think.” These were John Glenn’s recollections of when he orbited the Earth back in 1962, making him the first American to achieve this feat. Unfortunately, he reached his zenith, disintegrating into gas and dust at the age of 95 on December 8, 2016—still, his legacy continues like the radiance of the stars thousands of light-years away.

Who is John Glenn?

Born John Herschel Glenn, Jr. on July 18, 1921, and a native of Ohio, who is decorated with the following awards: Distinguished Flying Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, Navy Unit Commendation for serving in Korea, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, China Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, Navy’s astronaut Wings, Marine Corps’ Astronaut Medal, NASA Distinguished Service Medal, and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. Now, it would be an understatement to describe this man as exceptional.

He is a former astronaut (credited as one of the original seven astronauts on-board the Mercury spacecraft), who circled the Earth three times. Aside from circumnavigating our home planet, he also played a vital role in regulating its affairs by serving as a US senator for four terms.

John Glenn: Pre-astronaut days

He was described as “Humble, funny, and generous” by the dean of the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State University, Trevor Brown. He emphasized “even after leaving public life, he loved to meet with citizens, school children in particular. He was thrilled by music and had a weakness for chocolate.”

John obtained a degree in engineering from Muskingum College in New Concord but decided to enlist in the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. The next year, he enlisted in the Marine corps. When he finished his training, he joined Marine Fighter Squadron 155 and piloted fighter jets in the Marshall Islands. In World War II, he served as a pilot credited with 59 combat missions. After the war, he served in Guam, then in Korea, where he shot down opposing jets in combat. In 1957, he achieved supersonic speed by flying from Los Angeles to New York in 3 hours and 23 minutes, where he set a transcontinental speed record. In total, his flying time accumulated to 9,000 hours, which is equal to flying a jet non-stop for a year and ten days.

Stuck in Zero Gravity

In an interview with Time, John seemed to “snivel” his way into what later became his major achievements, as explained by Marine Lieut. Colonel Richard Rainforth, who was Glenn’s co-pilot in both World War II and Korea. “Sniveling, among pilots, means to work yourself into a program, whether it happens to be your job or not. Sniveling is perfectly legitimate, and Johnny is a great hand at it.” In 1959, Glenn applied his art in one of the most sought out missions: Project Mercury. He was 37 at the time, which was considered to be a handicap to a certain degree by some of his colleagues. However, Glenn proved them wrong. “Johnny stepped up, chest high, and offered himself as a candidate. They took him,” recalls Rainfort.

The astronaut spent nine days in Discovery (which was launched on Oct. 29, 1988). Being 77 years old at that time made him the oldest person who had been in space. In 1964, Glenn resigned as a space sailor and retired from the marine corps a year after that.

His post-astronaut era was mainly centered on politics and investments in environment protection efforts. Ten years after retiring, he was elected as a US senator in 1974, got re-elected in 1980, served his third term in 1986, and got elected again in 1992.

At a press conference, Glenn expressed a statement of humility after years of experience as a traveler of space: “If you think of the enormity of space, it makes our efforts seem puny. But these are all step-by-step functions we go through. The manned flights we’ve had to date have added information. This flight, I hope, added a bit more. And there are more to come.”

Photo Sources:

Cover Photo – NASA
Photo 1 – YouTube 10:04
Photo 2 – YouTube 9:28
Photo 3 – YouTube 10:40