Former astronaut, veteran, and senator John Glenn died on Thursday at the age of 95. John Glenn's space missions were historic. In 1962, Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth, and he orbited the planet three times, according to NASA. At the age of 77, Glenn returned to space more than 30 years later, in 1998, on a nine day mission, to find out how space flight affects older people. In doing so, he became the oldest person to travel in space.
Glenn's first mission was with fellow astronomers known as the "Mercury 7," which included Scott Carpenter, Alan Shepard, and Gus Grissom. His space capsule was known as "Friendship 7."
It was Carpenter who famously wished Glenn success before he went into orbit: "Godspeed, John Glenn."
He spoke of the difficulties of his first space trip with NPR:
[T]here were some problems cropped up on the flight, but I was able to take care of those OK and although there were things we hadn't really train that much for...But it was the time of the Cold War, and so there was a lot of pressure...to get going... the Soviets were claiming they were ahead of us in technology. And so it was against that backdrop that the early space flights took off.
Glenn's successful space trip gave Americans hope that they could compete with the Soviet Union in the space race.
In 1998, the Space Shuttle Discovery's mission was to study solar wind, and to deliver hardware needed to maintain the Hubble Space Telescope. Glenn played a significant role: he went through experiments to see how he responded to the lack of gravity as a senior citizen.
Glenn described what it was like being in space for such a long time during his second mission, in an interview with Teen Ink:
I had a chance to see sunsets and sunrises time after time...You’re going very fast, but you can still see rivers and even bridges, if the light reflection is right, and towns, cities; you’re seeing them from very far away, but they’re very clear.
But Glenn is known for more than his space trips. He served as Ohio's senator from 1974 until 1999. Glenn cared very much about serving the people, so much so he established the John Glenn College of Public Affairs.
In a statement, Dr. Trevor Brown, dean of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, mourned the loss of Glenn, who established the college to encourage people to become interested in public service.
The state of Ohio, the nation and the world lost a hero. We at the Glenn College and The Ohio State University lost a friend...We are proud to carry on his legacy of public service by inspiring young people to serve the greater good and to shaping and molding the next generation of public leaders.
Still, Glenn's space adventures will remain his legacy.
Even until the final years of his life, Glenn told NPR he he remembered his first space mission as though it were a week ago. The hero went through several health issues, including a stroke in 2014.
For his entire life, Glenn was always passionate that we need to advance our research of space flight. His legacy will surely inspire such passion in others as well.
So, to echo the words of Scott Carpenter: Godspeed, John Glenn.