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John Glenn’s career hardly ended when he became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.

The former astronaut, who passed away last week, became a US senator in 1974. He was elected four times, serving as a Democratic representative of Ohio until 1999. During those years, he authored the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 and advocated consistently for investment into scientific and technological research, as well as streamlined government.

Even after his stint in politics, he was able to use his platform as a national icon to support the causes he believed in. In the clip above, from his speech at NASA’s 50th anniversary in Sept. 2008, he offers a clear perspective on how America became a world power in a little more than a century—and how it can maintain its global pre-eminence moving forward.