John Glenn, the first American to orbit the planet, has died at the age of 95.
On Feb. 20, 1962, with broadcaster Walter Cronkite shouting “Go Baby!,” a 40-year-old Glenn launched from Cape Canaveral Florida.
Aboard the tiny Friendship Seven capsule, in just under five hours, Glenn circled the globe three times, captivating the country as tensions with archrival Russia ran high. Russia beat the US to an orbital mission by almost a year.
“Zero G and I feel fine,” Glenn relayed from space. “Capsule is turning around. Oh, that view is tremendous!”
He returned with a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, became an instant hero, and further fueled America’s fascination with space travel.
An engineer, decorated veteran of World War II and the Korean War, and a test pilot, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration selected the cool-headed Glenn as one of the “Mercury Seven”—the first group of US astronauts. Glenn, who died Dec. 8 in his home state of Ohio after he was hospitalized in Columbus, was the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven.
In 1964, Glenn left NASA to enter the politics, though it would be another decade before he was elected to the Senate.
But Glenn’s career in space didn’t end there. In 1998, at age 77, he became the oldest man to fly in space. Traveling with six Discovery crew mates, Glenn volunteered to become a human guinea pig for tests on the aging process in astronauts.
“Boy, enjoying the show. This is beautiful. It’s still a trite old statement: Zero-G and I feel fine,” Glenn reportedly told Houston Mission Control three hours into the flight.