Americas, USA, Science & Tech

Remembering John Glenn: The Last Great American Hero

Sadly, John Glenn has joined the long line of great people to pass away in 2016. Glenn has been one of my heroes for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I watched Discovery Channel’s series “When We Left Earth” with more attention than many people give their professors in class. I wanted to be an astronaut, just like John Glenn was. I wanted to be like this guy.

John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth and the oldest American to enter outer space in 1998; few people will ever have that kind of legacy. John Glenn may not have been a perfect man. However, you cannot deny that his work had an impact on people all over the world, at a young age and as an older man. Astronaut, Payload Specialist, WWII pilot, Senator from Ohio… Glenn has impacted lives in his home state and across the scientific field.

John Glenn – A Cosmonaut Extraordinaire

People like John Glenn and Russian Cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova (the first woman in space) rightfully belong in the ranks of people like Drake, Leif Ericson, and Coronado. These people have explored where other people were terrified to go. And once we had pretty much explored the whole earth, we turned to the stars, and it took a much braver soul to explore that. For one, you can’t even survive out there. John Glenn, Gagarin, and Tereshkova took risks that few people can ever claim to have taken. They laid the groundwork for technology that we take for granted today.

John Glenn is a WWII and Korean War vet, serving as a military pilot in the US Navy and Marines. Glenn did not see active duty during WWII, but he was an ace pilot in the Korean War. He gained the nickname “magnet ass” because he attracted so much fire. When he returned from one combat mission, he had over 250 holes in this plane from a flak.

After that, he became aviation trainer and joined NASA later on. Considering that he was an extremely daring pilot, NASA approached him as a possible candidate for a manned spaceflight.

A Flawed Human

John Glenn does have a few grey marks on his reputation. He was against the idea of women joining NASA as astronauts for a long time; he wanted only former military pilots to become astronauts for the space program, and he testified to the Senate to this effect. However, he apparently changed his views later in life and became much more supportive of female astronauts. Glenn never overtly discouraged the little girls who wrote him fan mail wanting to become astronauts, but he never overtly encouraged them either, simply sending them NASA pamphlets and encouraging their interest in the space program.

One modern thing of interest about Glenn’s career are the people that ran the calculations for him: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson. They were three black women who worked in the computer division and helped calculate the launch coordinates. Without them, Glenn’s flight never would have happened.

Glenn’s flight went flawlessly, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor and got to meet the president. He had, however, only barely met the minimum requirements for an astronaut (science background AND he was 40 years old) so he would not have been selected for any moon landings. John Glenn resigned gracefully from NASA. He then left the Marine Corps as well as the military due to injuries sustained during a fall and became an exec for Crown Royal Soda.

John Glenn Returned to Space

John Glenn had a fairly successful career as Ohio’s senator and later returned to space in 1998. He had lobbied to be taken back to space for years. Can you really blame him? He got a taste for it when he orbited the Earth for the first time. Glenn’s purpose aboard the shuttle was for experimentation on how space affects older people.

John Glenn was married to Ann Castor, and people around them said that anyone who wanted to learn about marriage should study from the Glenns because there was no doubt about how much they loved each other. They were both religious, and he was an ordained elder in his church. Although he was religious, he was a firm believer in evolution and believed it should be taught in schools, saying that there was no scientific contradiction between evolution and a belief in God.

Glenn died on December 8th, 2016. President Obama ordered all flags to fly at half-mast until his burial. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and President-Elect Trump all gave tributes to him.

Space is the final frontier. John Glenn is one of the pioneers that have allowed us to make journeys into space that go further and further. He has inspired people like Elon Musk, who plans to build a Mars colony. None of this would be possible without people like Glenn and other astronauts and cosmonauts. He had his flaws, but today, let’s remember him for the good that he did and the paths that he helped blaze, along with the men and women of more than one race that helped him along his way. Godspeed, John Glenn.

About Caleb Smith

Caleb is a freelance writer and music student from the United States, with a passion for comic books, reading, and punk rock. He loves writing about often overlooked and under-reported stories to help raise awareness.

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