John Glenn, an aviation legend and the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, has died at the age of 95.
Glenn passed away at a hospital in Columbus, Ohio, having been admitted more than a week ago, although the cause of his hospitalisation is not yet apparent and was only reported yesterday. He lived a long life of remarkably good health, and died surrounded by his family.
Glenn was a highly-decorated marine who piloted nearly nearly 60 combat missions in the South Pacific during World War II, followed by another 90 during the Korean War. After the Korean War, Glenn remained in the military as a test pilot, flying supersonic aircraft and other state-of-the-art military models. On July 16th 1957, he broke the transcontinental speed record, taking off from Los Alamitos Naval Air Station in California, and touching down just over 3 hours and 23 minutes later at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York.
At the height of the military arms race between the US and the Soviet Union, aviation records were a big deal. This one earned Glenn the accolade of being selected for Project Mercury, the United States' first man-in-space program. A few years later, on February 20th, 1962, Glenn rocketed his way into the annals of spaceflight history, becoming the first American to orbit the Earth -- three times, in just under five hours.
Glenn left the astronaut program in 1964 to pursue a career in politics, serving four terms as a Democratic US senator from Ohio between 1974 and 1999. Years as a lawmaker, however, did not soften Glenn's appetite for daring feats: in 1998, the retired astronaut made spaceflight history again, becoming the oldest man in space as part of a seven-person crew aboard the space shuttle Discovery. Glenn served as the mission's payload specialist.
"John Glenn is, and always will be, Ohio's ultimate hometown hero, and his passing today is an occasion for all of us to grieve," said Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich. "As we bow our heads and share our grief with his beloved wife, Annie, we must also turn to the skies, to salute his remarkable journeys and his long years of service to our state and nation."
Glenn was the last surviving member of the original seven astronauts who made up Project Mercury.