On October 4, 1957 the Age of Space Exploration was kicked off by the former USSR launching the world’s first artificial satellite, little Sputnik 1. From there was born the old “space race” between the Soviet Union and the United States on being the first superpower to reach the furthest extent of manned exploration: a man on the moon. The US space program was quick to catch up to the early Russian lead, its series of test launches culminating in the Mercury space program, which sent seven American astronauts into space – the “Mercury Seven” as they were known.
With news reported on by CBS News this December 8, the last living member of this illustrious group of space explorers has gone on to join his fellows beyond the stars. John Glenn Jr., the fifth person in space, third American, first astronaut to orbit the Earth, and oldest person to go to space as of 1998, has died in Columbus, Ohio at the age of 95. No word was yet given on the cause of death, or even the reason for his hospitalization a week prior. He is survived by Anna Glenn, his wife for 73 years of a happy and supportive marriage, as well as their two children and grandchildren.
Born in 1921, Glenn would join the Marine Corps as an aviator, flying combat missions in the Pacific Theater during World War II and in the Korean War a few years later. Moving on to test-piloting, he would in July 16, 1957 pull off a supersonic transcontinental flight across the US, a record that earned him his first ticker-tape parade, one that would repeat in February 20, 1962 when he launched in the Mercury 6 space capsule (mission name Friendship 7), to perform three earth orbits in space, the first astronaut to do so. After retiring from the astronaut corps in 1964 he would serve as US Senator from Ohio for 25 years (1974-1999), the longest of any senator from that state. In 1998 he would return to space a second time as part of mission STS-95 aboard the space shuttle Discovery, earning the record of oldest man in space.
As expected the outpouring of condolences and tributes has been astounding. After all, Glenn was the last man standing among the Mercury Seven, and thus his passing was all the more momentous as it was bittersweet. President Barack Obama described Glenn as having “lifted the hopes of a nation”, while President-elect Donald Trump said on Twitter that he “inspired generations of future explorers”.
NASA posted a tribute series of tweets; the USMC honored him as “astronaut, senator and Marine”; and Ohio governor John Kasich hailed Glenn as the state’s “ultimate hometown hero”.
Photo Credit to http://www1.cbn.com/