John Glenn, a lifelong pilot and public figure who is best known as the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, died Thursday at 95. The retired military airman and four-term U.S. senator was hospitalized in Columbus, Ohio, about a week ago in declining health. Glenn, a native of Cambridge in eastern Ohio, is the state’s “ultimate hometown hero, and his passing today is an occasion for all of us to grieve,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich tweeted. Glenn is a decorated military pilot who flew combat missions in World War II and the Korean War before flying as a military test pilot and joining NASA’s astronaut program in 1958.
During World War II, he flew 59 combat missions as part of Marine Fighter Squadron 155 flying F-4U fighters. He continued flying as a Marine pilot on Guam after the war and later instructed military pilots, according to NASA. As part of Marine Fighter Squadron 311 in the Korean War, he flew 63 missions. For his service in both wars, Glenn received numerous honors including six awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. He went on to fly as a military test pilot and in 1957 set a transcontinental speed record from Los Angeles to New York in a supersonic F8U Crusader.
He joined NASA’s first astronaut program and on Feb. 20, 1962, on board the Friendship 7 spacecraft, he orbited the Earth three times, reaching a maximum altitude of 162 miles and speeds upward of 17,500 miles per hour in a flight that lasted just under five hours. During his orbits he was heard to say, “Zero-G and I feel fine. Man, that view is tremendous.” More than 36 years later, in October 1998, Glenn became the oldest astronaut to fly in space when he served as a crew member on the space shuttle Discovery. Glenn was honored earlier this year when Port Columbus International Airport was renamed John Glenn Columbus International Airport. His body will lie in state at the Ohio Statehouse before a public memorial service, and he will be buried during a private service at Arlington National Cemetery, according to The Columbus Dispatch.