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NASA: Happy birthday, John Glenn

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NASA commemorates the 90th birthday of astronaut John Glenn
  • Glenn is the first U.S. astronaut to orbit Earth
  • He is also the oldest person to fly to space
  • He was aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1998
  • John Glenn
  • NASA
  • Space Shuttles

(CNN) -- NASA commemorated the 90th birthday of astronaut and former Sen. John Glenn, the first U.S. astronaut to orbit Earth, on Monday.

"John Glenn is a legend, and NASA sends him our best wishes on this major personal milestone," said Charles Bolden, a NASA administrator. "John's legacy and contributions to the continued progress of human spaceflight are immense. His example is one we continue to emulate as we push toward farther destinations in the solar system."

Glenn began his career with NASA in 1959 as an astronaut for Project Mercury, the first program dedicated to successfully orbiting a manned spacecraft around the Earth. He made history as the pilot and first U.S. astronaut to orbit Earth in Mercury-Atlas 6, or the Friendship 7 capsule, on February 20, 1962.

He took off from NASA's launch operations center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, completed three orbits of the Earth and landed 800 miles southeast of the center in the Turks and Caicos Islands in 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds, according to NASA.

Throughout his spaceflight career, Glenn logged more than 218 hours in space and made history again as the oldest person to fly in space, on October 29, 1998, aboard the nine-day shuttle Discovery mission.

Glenn's flight career began in 1942, when he left his hometown of New Concord, Ohio, to join the military. He was commissioned to the Marine Corps in 1943 and flew 59 combat missions in World War II and 90 combat missions during the Korean War.

He left NASA in 1964, retired from the Marine Corps a year later and began pursuing public service.

After two failed attempts to become a U.S. senator for Ohio, and a few years spent as president of a soft-drink company, Royal Crown Cola, Glenn was elected in 1974 as the Democratic senator from Ohio.

He served in the Senate until his retirement in 1997 and also ran for president in the 1984 Democratic primaries.

Upon retirement, Glenn and his wife, Annie Glenn, founded the John Glenn Institute for Public Service at Ohio State University. He also serves as a trustee for Muskingum College in New Concord.

The John and Annie Glenn Historic Site, also in New Concord, which restored John Glenn's childhood home, planned tours of the house for the public Monday evening, said Debbie Allender, executive director for the historical foundation.