John Glenn, First American to Orbit Earth, Dies at 95


09 December, 2016

Astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, has died.

Glenn was 95. He was admitted to the James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University more than a week ago.

John Glenn was the last surviving member of a group known as "the Mercury Seven," test pilots who, in 1959, were chosen to become America's first astronauts.

On April 9, 1959, NASA introduced its first astronaut class, the Mercury 7.
On April 9, 1959, NASA introduced its first astronaut class, the Mercury 7.

President Barack Obama released a statement about Glenn's death. "Our nation has lost an icon and Michelle and I have lost a friend," he said.

He praised Glenn for a lifetime of breaking barriers, including setting a transcontinental speed record and becoming the oldest man ever to go into space.

Pilot and Astronaut

Glenn served as a military pilot in World War II and the Korean conflict. Then, he served as a test pilot on military airplanes.

On February 20, 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. He flew a spacecraft named the Friendship 7. He orbited three times during the almost five-hour flight.

Much later, in 1998, he also became the oldest man to fly in space. He served as a crew member on the space shuttle Discovery.

The United States space agency, NASA, wanted to study the possible effects of space travel on old people. NASA said that Glenn was perfect for the job because they already had so much information about him.

U.S. Senator

Glenn was not only an astronaut. He was a politician, too.

Glenn was a member of the Democratic Party. He first sought political office in 1964, to represent Ohio in the U.S. Senate. He withdrew from the race after an injury, however. He ran again six years later but did not win the party's nomination. Finally, in 1974, on his third attempt, Ohio elected John Glenn to the U.S. Senate.

During the race, Glenn famously defended attacks by his political opponent, Howard Metzenbaum.

Metzenbaum, a wealthy businessman, suggested that Glenn's service in the military and NASA meant he had never had a job.

Glenn's answer became one of the most famous retorts in American political history.

It is called the "Gold Star Mothers" speech. A gold star mother is a mother whose child has died in active U.S. military service.

Glenn told Metzenbaum, "You go with me to any gold star mother and you look her in the eye and tell her that her son did not hold a job."

Many experts say that speech helped Glenn win the election. The astronaut remained a member of the U.S. Senate until 1999.

Public Service and Awards

After leaving the Senate, Glenn helped to create a public service school at Ohio State University. Later, this school became the John Glenn College of Public Affairs.

Glenn won many awards, including honorary degrees at several universities, the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service, a U.S. senate public service award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I'm Caty Weaver.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

Marissa Melton wrote this story for VOA News. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

___________________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

icon – n. a person who is very successful and admired

transcontinental – adj. going across a continent

retort – n. a quick and often angry reply