Legendary astronaut John Glenn dies at 95

Mr Glenn in a photo taken in 1998, the year he made history again by returning to space at 77. His long career as an explorer exemplified the American pioneering spirit.
Mr Glenn in a photo taken in 1998, the year he made history again by returning to space at 77. His long career as an explorer exemplified the American pioneering spirit.PHOTO: REUTERS

Tributes flood in for national icon who in 1962 became first American to orbit Earth

COLUMBUS (Ohio) • John Glenn, who made history twice as the first American to orbit Earth and the first senior citizen to venture into space, has died at the age of 95.

Mr Glenn became a symbol of strength and the nation's pioneering spirit, drawing admirers from all walks of life over a long career in the military, then the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and the Senate.

He and six other military pilots were part of the Original Seven, the very first class of US astronauts in 1959, whose saga was recounted in the classic movie The Right Stuff.

Nasa was among the first of many to pay tribute to the legendary astronaut who went on to serve as a lawmaker for more than two decades, calling him "a true American hero".

"Godspeed, John Glenn. Ad astra," it tweeted, echoing the Latin phrase "to the stars" radioed by fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter to Mr Glenn before he circled Earth in 1962.

Mr Glenn died on Thursday at the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, according to Mr Hank Wilson, a spokesman for the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. The cause of death was not immediately announced.

President Barack Obama said: "With John's passing, our nation has lost an icon, and Michelle and I have lost a friend.

"John always had the right stuff, inspiring generations of scientists, engineers and astronauts who will take us to Mars and beyond - not just to visit, but to stay."

A veteran of two wars, Mr Glenn had been in declining health, undergoing heart-valve replacement surgery in 2014 and reportedly suffering a stroke. He was hospitalised in Columbus more than a week before he died.

"John is one of the best and bravest men I've ever known," said Secretary of State John Kerry as he paid respects to his friend and former colleague in the Senate, calling him "an inspiration".

Mr John Kasich, governor of Mr Glenn's home state in the Midwest, said: "Though he soared deep into space and to the heights of Capitol Hill, his heart never strayed from his steadfast Ohio roots."

President-elect Donald Trump, who happened to be in Columbus when the death was announced, paid his own tribute, telling a rally later in Iowa: "He was a giant among men, and a true American legend."

The first man to orbit Earth was Russia's Yuri Gagarin in 1961.

On Feb 20, 1962, Mr Glenn became the first American to accomplish the feat, uttering the memorable phrase: "Zero G and I feel fine."

His flight lasted just under five hours, and he circled Earth three times, as part of Nasa's Project Mercury.

Thirty-six years later, on Oct 29, 1998, he made history again when he returned to space at the age of 77 - becoming the oldest astronaut in space.

It was another shining moment in a career filled with trailblazing successes that spanned decades.

Born on July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio, Mr Glenn joined the US Marine Corps in 1943, becoming a fighter pilot.

He served in the Pacific during World War II, and later in the Korean War, flying a total of 149 combat missions and downing three fighter jets over the Yalu River in the final nine days of fighting.

In 1957, he made the first non-stop supersonic flight from Los Angeles to New York. Two years later, he became an astronaut.

After his 23-year career in the US military and space programme ended in 1965, he entered the Senate as a Democrat. He made two unsuccessful tries for the presidential nomination, in 1984 and 1988.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2016, with the headline 'Legendary astronaut John Glenn dies at 95'. Print Edition | Subscribe