John Herschel Glenn, Jr. (born July 18, 1921) is a former United States Marine Corps pilot, astronaut, and United States senator who was the first American to orbit the Earth and the third American in space. Glenn was a Marine Corps fighter pilot before joining NASA's Mercury program as a member of NASA's original astronaut group. He orbited the Earth in Friendship 7 in 1962. After retiring from NASA, he entered politics as a Democrat and represented Ohio in the United States Senate from 1974 to 1999.
Glenn received a Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978. He was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1990. On October 29, 1998, he became the oldest person to fly in space, and the only one to fly in both the Mercury and Space Shuttle programs, when at age 77, he flew on Discovery (STS-95). As of 2012, Glenn and M. Scott Carpenter are the last living members of the Mercury Seven.
John Glenn was born in Cambridge, Ohio, to John Herschel Glenn Sr. and Teresa (née Sproat). He was raised in New Concord, Ohio. Glenn studied science at Muskingum College, and received his private pilot's license as physics course credit in 1941. When the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II, he dropped out of college and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps; however, the Army did not call him up, and in March 1942 he enlisted as a United States Navy aviation cadet. He trained at Naval Air Station Olathe, where he made his first solo flight in a military aircraft. During advanced training in 1943 at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, he was reassigned to the United States Marine Corps. After completing his training, Glenn was assigned to Marine squadron VMJ-353, flying R4D transport planes. He eventually managed a transfer to VMF-155 as an F4U Corsair pilot, and flew 59 combat missions in the South Pacific. He saw action over the Marshall Islands, where he attacked anti-aircraft batteries and dropped bombs on Maloelap. In 1945 he was assigned to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, where he was promoted to captain shortly before the war ended. Glenn flew patrol missions in North China with the VMF-218 squadron, until it was transferred to Guam. In 1948 he became a flight instructor at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, then attended the amphibious warfare school and received a staff assignment.
Glenn was next assigned to VMF-311, flying the new F9F Panther jet interceptor. He flew his Panther in 63 combat missions during the Korean War, gaining the dubious nickname "magnet ass" from his apparent ability to attract enemy flak. Twice he returned to base with over 250 flak holes in his aircraft. Glenn flew for a time with Ted Williams, a future hall of fame baseball player for the Boston Red Sox, as his wingman.
n April 1959, despite the fact that Glenn had not earned the required college degree, he was assigned to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as one of the original group of seven astronauts chosen for Project Mercury. During this time, he remained an officer in the United States Marine Corps.
He became the fifth person in space, the third American in space and the first American to orbit the Earth, aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962, on the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission, circling the globe three times during a flight lasting 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds. Perth, Western Australia became known worldwide as the "City of Light" when city residents lit their house lights and streetlights as Glenn passed overhead. The city repeated the act when Glenn rode the Space Shuttle in 1998. During the mission there was concern over a ground indication that his heat shield had come loose, which could allow it to fail during re-entry through the atmosphere, which would result in his capsule burning up. Flight controllers had Glenn modify his re-entry procedure by keeping his retrorocket pack on over the shield in an attempt to keep it in place. He made his splashdown safely, and afterwards it was determined that the indicator was faulty.
As the first American in orbit, Glenn was celebrated as a national hero, and received a ticker-tape parade reminiscent of that given for Charles Lindbergh. His fame and political attributes were noted by the Kennedys, and he became a personal friend of the Kennedy family.
On February 23, 1962 President Kennedy escorted him in a parade to Hanger S at Canaveral Air Force station where he awarded Glenn with the NASA service medal.
During his time in the Senate, he was chief author of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978, served as chairman of the Committee on Governmental Affairs from 1987 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 Fred Dalton Thompson that looked into illegal foreign donations by China to U.S. political campaigns for the 1996 election. 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 five leaders of a Congressional committee seldom seen in recent years, amid allegations that Glenn suppressed these issues prior to his subsequent space shuttle flight which had to be approved by President Clinton. In 1998, Glenn declined to run for re-election. Mary O. Boyle was the Democratic party nominee. She faced Republican nominee and sitting governor George Voinovich in the general election, which Voinovich won.