Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Glenn, John Herschel, Jr. (1921–)

U.S. Air Marine Corps officer and pilot, astronaut, first American to orbit Earth, and Democratic U.S. senator from Ohio (1974–1999). Born on 18 July 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio, John Glenn attended local public schools and enrolled at Muskingum College in Ohio in 1939. In 1942 he interrupted his studies to join the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. He subsequently served in the U.S. Marine Corps, seeing action as a pilot in the Marshall Islands during World War II. During the war, he flew some fifty-nine missions. He subsequently served in the Korean War, flying an F-86 Sabre and completing ninety missions. During the conflict, he downed three Soviet-made MiGs.

Following his Korean War service, Glenn became an accomplished test pilot. On 16 July 1957 he became the first man to complete a supersonic transcontinental flight, flying from California to New York in three hours, twenty-three minutes. In 1959 he joined the fledgling U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to take part in the Mercury program. On 7 February 1962 he became the first American to orbit Earth in the Friendship 7. He orbited Earth three times, which bested Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's one orbit around Earth the previous year, although Gagarin had the distinction of being the first human in space. The flight made Glenn a national hero and earned him a ticker tape parade in New York City. It also raised the stakes significantly in the Space Race.

In 1965 Glenn retired as a Marine colonel and left the space program. He joined the business world and served as the vice president and then president of Royal Crown Cola, where he stayed until winning a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1974.

Glenn enjoyed a successful senatorial career, although he was implicated but later exonerated in the so-called Keating Five scandal of the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1984 he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination. In October 1998, while still a sitting senator, he became the oldest man ever to venture into space, with the crew of the space shuttle Discovery. He was seventy-seven years old at the time of his flight, which was in part to test the effects of space travel on elderly people. Glenn stepped down from the Senate in 1999 and enjoys an active retirement, which includes involvement in numerous causes and organizations.

Paul G. Pierpaoli Jr.


Further Reading
Montgomery, Scott, and Timothy R. Gaffney. Back in Orbit: John Glenn's Return to Space. Atlanta, GA: Longstreet, 1998.
 

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