John Glenn

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John Glenn
This article is about the astronaut. For the English film director, see John Glen.

John Herschel Glenn, Jr. (born July 18, 1921) is a former American astronaut, Air Force fighter pilot, and politician. He was the third American astronaut to travel in space and the first American to complete an orbit of the earth. Later he served as a United States Senator from Ohio (19741999).


Early history and military career

Born in Cambridge, Ohio, he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Muskingum College. He enrolled in the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in 1942, and was assigned to the Marines VMO-155 group in 1944. Glenn flew a Corsair over the Marshall Islands, specifically Maloelap, where he was tasked with attacking anti-aircraft gunnery and ground bombardment. By 1945, he was transferred to the United States Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland, where he became a test pilot and was promoted to Captain by the war's end.

After the war, Glenn flew patrol missions in North China, based in Guam, but in 1948 he became an flight instructor at Corpus Christi, Texas, then undertook an amphibious warfare course and was assigned a staff assignment, all the while angling to get transferred to combat in Korea. Once there, after flying combat missions for the Marines, Glenn got the chance to fly with the Air Force on an inter-service exchange. Flying an Air Force F-86 Sabre, he shot down three MiGs. He received several medals for his service.

He returned to Patuxent River after the Korean War, where he became a test pilot for new planes. Glenn was the armament officer, taking test planes up to high altitudes and testing the cannon/machine guns aboard the plane. He eventually completed the first supersonic transcontinental flight on July 16, 1957, in a Vought F8U "Crusader." The flight was from California to New York and lasted 3 hours, 23 minutes and 8 seconds. As Glenn passed over his hometown, his neighbor reportedly ran to his parent's house shouting "Johnny dropped a bomb! Johnny dropped a bomb" as the supersonic boom shook the town.

NASA career

In 1958 Glenn joined NASA as one of the original group of Mercury astronauts for the Project Mercury, and flew the first American manned orbital mission termed "Friendship 7" on February 20, 1962. He completed three orbits, the "Mercury 6" mission, lasting 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds. As a result, he became a national hero, and received a ticker-tape parade reminiscent of Lindbergh. He also became a personal friend of the Kennedy family, and was the one chosen by Jackie Kennedy to break the news to the Kennedy children of what had happened to their father on November 22, 1963.

John Glenn during the Mercury program; 1962 (NASA)
John Glenn during the Mercury program; 1962 (NASA)

NASA management considered Glenn too valuable a PR asset to risk on another spaceflight and in 1962 he was moved to the Apollo program office and not selected for a flight in the Gemini programme. Glenn worked for NASA until 1964 and tried to use his influence to talk up additional use of the Mercury program with no success. After NASA, he entered the business world as an executive in Royal Crown Cola.

Glenn lifted off for a second space flight on October 29, 1998, on Space Shuttle Discovery's STS-95 in order to study the effects of space flight on the elderly. His age of 77 made him the oldest person ever to go into space. Glenn's presence on the nine-day mission was widely criticized by many in the space community as an expensive junket for one of NASA's Congressional supporters, but was also justified by others as research into the varying effects of weightlessness and other conditions of space flight on the same person at two points in life thirty-five years apart, which is by far the farthest interval which has ever separated mutiple space flights by the same person. Upon their return, Glenn (and his crewmates) received another ticker-tape parade, making him the ninth (and, as of 2004, final) person to have ever received multiple ticker-tape parades in his own honor (as opposed to that of his sports team).

The NASA John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland, Ohio, is named after him.

Life in politics

In 1970, John Glenn entered politics and represented Ohio for the Democratic Party in the Senate from 1974 until retiring in 1999. Glenn had originally planned to enter politics earlier, but in 1966 had suffered a fall in his bathroom after attempting to adjust a heavy mirror. It fell on him, causing him to fall backwards and hit his head on the bathtub. He sustained a concussion as well as injuring his inner ear, and recovery left him unable to campaign at that time.

In 1970, Glenn contested for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate; however, Glenn lost in the primary to fellow Democrat Howard Metzenbaum, who went on to lose the general election race to Robert Taft Jr. In the bitterly-fought 1974 Democratic primary rematch, Glenn defeated Metzenbaum. Metzenbaum had been appointed by Ohio governor John J. Gilligan to the other Ohio Senate seat to fill out the term of William B. Saxbe, who had resigned to become U.S. attorney general. In the 1974 general election, Glenn defeated Republican Mayor of Cleveland Ralph Perk.

In 1980, Glenn won re-election to the seat, defeating Republican challenger Jim Betts. In 1986, Glenn defeated challenger U.S. Representative Tom Kindness.

Glenn was one of the five U.S. senators caught up in the Keating Five Scandal. However, Glenn, like Republican Senator John McCain, was exonerated of any wrongdoing. But the association of his name with the scandal gave Republicans hope that he would be vulnerable in the 1992 campaign. However, as it happened, Glenn handily defeated U.S. Representative Mike DeWine to keep his seat. This 1992 re-election victory is, as of 2004, the last time a Democrat won a statewide race in Ohio; DeWine later won Metzenbaum's seat upon his retirement.

In 1998, Glenn declined to run again. The Democratic party chose Mary Boyle to replace him, but she was defeated by then-Ohio Gov. George Voinovich.

Glenn also made a bid to run as Vice President with Jimmy Carter in 1976, but Carter instead at the 1976 Democratic National Convention selected Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale. Glenn also mounted a bid to be the 1984 Democratic Presidential candidate. Early on, Glenn polled well, coming in a strong second to Mondale. It was also surmised that he would be aided by the almost-simultaneous release of The Right Stuff , a movie about the original seven Mercury astronauts in which it was generally agreed that Glenn's character was portrayed in a pleasing and appealing manner. However, Glenn apparently turned his attention to national politics too early, neglecting the sensitive voters of the Iowa caucuses. Media attention turned to Mondale, Gary Hart, and Jesse Jackson, leaving Glenn the strongest also-ran. The 1984 presidential bid left Glenn with a substantial campaign debt that took years to pay off.

During his time in the Senate, he was chief author of the 1978 Nonproliferation Act, served as chairman of the Committee on Governmental Affairs from 1978 until 1995, sat on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees and the Special Committee on Aging. Once Republicans regained control of the Senate, Glenn also served as the ranking minority member on a special Senate investigative committee chaired by Tennessee senator and actor Fred Thompson. There was considerable acrimony between the two very high-profile senators during the life of this committee, which reached a level of public disagreement between the two leaders of a Congressional committee seldom seen in recent years.


Raised in Cambridge, Ohio as well as New Concord, Ohio, Glenn married his childhood sweetheart, Annie Margaret Castor; they are the parents of two children. Both Glenn and his future wife Annie attended Muskingum College which is located in New Concord, Ohio. After his retirement, John and Annie Glenn founded the John Glenn Institute for Public Service & Public Policy at The Ohio State University which moved to its new facility, the renovated Page Hall, in 2005. Glenn and his wife both suffer from varying degrees of hearing loss, and concern for this issue has always been one of Glenn's foremost interests. Glenn and his wife were both delegates on the Ohio delegation to the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Preceded by:
Howard M. Metzenbaum
U.S. Senators from Ohio
Succeeded by:
George Voinovich

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External links

es:John Glenn it:John Glenn he:ג'ון גלן nl:John Glenn ja:ジョン・グレン ru:Гленн, Джон Гершель-Младший sv:John Glenn


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