Space exploration legend John Glenn, first American to orbit the Earth, dies at 95

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Dec 8, 2016

Astronaut and former U.S. Senator John Glenn, a man who truly had the right stuff, passed away today at the age of 95. Word of his sad passing came from the Ohio State University spokesman Hank Wilson, where Glenn had been hospitalized at The James Cancer Center with an undisclosed illness since last week.

“The Ohio State University community deeply mourns the loss of John Glenn, Ohio’s consummate public servant and a true American hero," announced university president Michael V. Drake. "He leaves an undiminished legacy as one of the great people of our time."

Immortalized after his historic five-hour, three-orbit spin around the Earth aboard his trusty Friendship 7 space capsule on Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn epitomized the true grit and fearless determination of the original Mercury astronauts who blazed a trail of discovery and inspiration for the entire world, leading to the eventual Apollo moon landing missions. Glenn was born in the old-fashioned town of Cambridge, Ohio, on July 18, 1921, and grew up steeped in the flag-waving enthusiasm of a burgeoning nation.

"Love of country was a given. Defense of its ideals was an obligation," Glenn wrote in his 1999 autobiography, John Glenn: A Memoir. "The opportunity to join in its quests and explorations was a challenge not only to fulfill a sacred duty but to join a joyous adventure."

Glenn distinguished himself in the skies long before climbing into the cramped cockpit of a Mercury spacecraft, first as a decorated fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War before being recruited into NASA's ambitious new space program. He returned to space in 1998 at the ripe old age of 77 aboard the shuttle Discovery on a nine-day mission to help scientists measure the effects of space travel on senior citizens.

As a diehard politician, Glenn faithfully served as a senator for his home state of Ohio for 24 years. Actor Ed Harris (Westworld) played "Mr. Clean Marine" in the Academy Award-winning 1983 film adaptation of Tom Wolfe's epic novel of the early days of America's space program, The Right Stuff. Glenn was the last surviving member of that elite Mercury Seven astronaut group, which also included Alan B. Shepard Jr., Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, Deke Slayton and Scott Carpenter. He's survived by his longtime wife, Annie, whom he married in 1943.

A shining example of the unextinguishable American spirit has left us, but will remain forever alive in the hearts and minds of ageless explorers and dreamers across the globe. Godspeed, John Glenn.