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John Glenn's life

Glenn inside the capsule
First American to orbit the Earth  

(CNN) -- Combat pilot, astronaut, U.S. senator, husband, father -- and hero. The history-making resume of John Herschel Glenn Jr. is one that no one can match. But at least one more entry will be added later this year when the man who was the first American to orbit the Earth becomes the oldest astronaut.

Glenn, born on July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio, was in his teens when he learned to fly. He enlisted in the Naval Aviation Cadet Program shortly after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. At the time, he was a student at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio.

He was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1943, the same year he and Anna ("Annie") Margaret Castor were married. They have a son, Dave, a daughter, Lyn, and two grandchildren.

Glenn was a combat pilot in both World War II and the Korean War, flying a total of about 150 missions. For his service he received six Distinguished Flying Crosses, among other medals.

John Glenn rockets into space in 1962
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During post-war years Glenn worked as a test pilot on Navy and Marine Corps jet fighters and attack aircraft. He set a transcontinental speed record in 1957 for the first flight from Los Angeles to New York to average supersonic speeds.

In 1959 he was selected to be one of the U.S. space program's first seven astronauts in the Mercury program.

Glenn after splashdown on February 20, 1962, 800 miles southeast of Bermuda  

Three years later, on, February 20, 1962, Glenn made history as the first American to orbit the Earth, completing a three-orbit flight in a cramped capsule dubbed Friendship 7.

"Boy, that was a real fireball of a ride," he said, describing his fiery re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere before the capsule splashed down and was retrieved in the Atlantic Ocean, 800 miles southeast of Bermuda.

Later, Glenn recalled the five-hour trip for a Life Magazine article: "There, spread out as far as I could see were literally thousands of tiny luminous objects that glowed in the black sky like fireflies. I was riding slowly through them, and the sensation was like walking backwards through a pasture where someone had waved a wand and made all the fireflies stop right where they were and glow steadily."

Newspaper cover
Glenn became an American hero  

Boost for a nation

Glenn's mission was more than just a round-the-world space journey. It was a psychological boost to a nation worried about the Soviet Union's early lead in the space race.

Awarded the Space Congressional Medal of Honor, Glenn also received the biggest ticker tape parade New York City has ever thrown. An estimated 4 million people turned out.

Having gone into space just the one, brief time, Glenn left the U.S. space program in 1964 -- after 22 years in the Marine Corps. In that same year his new career -- politics -- got off to a rocky start when an injury forced him to withdraw from a campaign to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.

He tried again and failed in 1970, losing in the primary to Howard Metzenbaum.

The third time proved to be the charm as Glenn ran in 1974 and defeated Metzenbaum in the primary and then won easily in the general election. He was re-elected in 1980, 1986 and 1992 -- becoming Ohio's first four-term U.S. senator.

Glenn announced in 1997 that his current term, ending in January 1999, would be his last.

On the downside in Glenn's political life:

  • A failed run for president in 1984. Touted as a top contender, Glenn did not make a substantial impact on the race.

  • Also in the 1980s, his name became connected with the "Keating Five" case. Glenn was one of five lawmakers who were suspected of doing favors for Charles Keating, a wealthy savings and loan executive and campaign donor who was convicted of fraud and racketeering in the most expensive savings and loan failure in U.S. history. Glenn was ultimately found only to have exercised poor judgment, but his public image suffered.

Glenn, who has been active in the Senate on environmental issues and nuclear proliferation issues, is the ranking Democrat on the Governmental Affairs Committee, which is investigating alleged campaign fund-raising abuses in the 1996 elections.


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