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John H. Glenn, Jr, Former Astronaut, Former Senator, American Hero

First American to Orbit Earth


Sen. John H. Glenn, Jr, Former Astronaut

John H. Glenn, Jr, Former Astronaut, Former Senator, American Hero

On July 18, 1921, John Herschel and Clara Sproat Glenn, of Cambridge, Ohio, had a son, whom they named after the father. Two years later, the small family moved to New Concord, where they constructed a home, which would double as a boarding house for students from nearby Muskingum College. Meanwhile, John senior opened a plumbing business.

John H. Glenn, Jr. attended New Concord High School and after graduation enrolled in Muskingum College, where he earned B.S. in engineering. In early 1943, after the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, he joined the Naval Aviation Cadet Program and became a Marine pilot. He won his wings and lieutenant's bars, and on April 6 of that year, he married the former Anna Margaret Castor, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. H.W. Castor of New Concord. John H. Glenn, Jr. served in World War II and Korea, receiving many medals, and was a six time recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After Korea, John H. Glenn, Jr. attended the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland, then became one of the Test Center’s top test pilots. He flight-tested the FJ3, the F7U Cutlass, and the F8U Crusader. In1957 he set a speed record by flying from Los Angeles to New York in three hours and 23 minutes. This was the first transcontinental flight to average supersonic speeds.

When NASA began searching for pilots to participate in its suborbital and orbital program, Glenn applied. In January 1959, the selection committee received and screened 508 service records of a group of talented test pilots, from which 110 candidates were assembled. Less than one month later, through a variety of interviews and a battery of written tests, the NASA selection committee pared down this group to 32 candidates.

Each candidate endured even more stringent physical, psychological, and mental examinations, including total body x-rays, pressure suit tests, cognitive exercises, and a series of unnerving interviews. Of the 32 candidates, 18 were recommended for Project Mercury without medical reservations. On April 1, 1959, Robert Gilruth, the head of the Space Task Group, selected the first American astronauts. The "Mercury Seven" were Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., John H. Glenn, Jr., Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Alan B. Shepard, Jr., and Donald K. "Deke" Slayton.

Prior to his own flight Glenn served as backup pilot for Astronauts Shepard and Grissom. After eleven delays, due in part to equipment malfunctions or improvements and weather, he launched from Cape Canaveral (renamed Kennedy) and made America's first orbital flight on February 20,1962, piloting the Mercury-Atlas 6 Friendship 7 spacecraft on the first manned orbital mission of the United States. Near the end of the first orbit the automatic control system wasn't functioning properly. He went to manual control and continued in that mode during the second and third orbits and during re-entry. Another problem that Glenn encountered involved a signal sent to the ground via telemetry indicating that his spacecraft, Friendship 7, had a loose heat shield. In order to make sure it was secured in place during re-entry, the retropack was kept in place to steady the shield. During re-entry large portions of the burning retropack flew by the window but by that point there was sufficient aerodynamic force on the shield to hold it in position. His orbital flight lasted 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds, all but 7 minutes being in weightlessness. John H. Glenn, Jr. (NASA Biography) became the first American to orbit the Earth and an instant national hero.

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