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John Glenn, first American to orbit the earth, dies at 95

By Seema Hakhu Kachru
December 09, 2016 10:01 IST
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IMAGE: STS-95 crew member, astronaut and US Senator John Glenn poses for his official NASA photo taken April 14, 1998. Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth and returned to space in 1998 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. Photograph: NASA Handout/Reuters

Former United States senator and astronaut John Glenn, who became the first American to orbit the earth, has died in Ohio.

He was 95.

‘We are saddened by the loss of Sen John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth. A true American hero. Godspeed, John Glenn,’ NASA tweeted immediately after his death was announced.

IMAGE: Glenn relaxes aboard the USS Noa after being recovered from the Atlantic near Grand Turk Island following his first orbit around the Earth on February, 20, 1962. The Noa picked him up 21 minutes after impact. Photograph: NASA Handout/ Reuters

Glenn died on Thursday at the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, where he was hospitalised for more than a week, the John Glenn College of Public Affairs announced on its website.

The former astronaut had been battling health issues after suffering from stroke a few years ago. He had undergone heart valve replacement surgery in 2014. His death was confirmed by Hank Wilson, communications director of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at the Ohio State University.

IMAGE: Glenn enters Friendship 7 capsule with assistance from technicians to begin his historic flight to become the first American to orbit the Earth at Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 14 in Florida. Photograph: NASA Handout/ Reuters

Glenn, who circled the earth three times, was the third US astronaut in space. He was the first to get into orbit.

Known for his small-town decency and calm heroics, Glenn was the last survivor of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. He later served for nine years as a Democratic senator from Ohio.

On February 20, 1962, when Glenn rocketed into space, it was momentous and nerve-racking. Space travel was in its infancy. Every launch and mission captivated the imagination of America.

He made history a second time in 1998, when he returned to space decades later at the age of 77 only to become the oldest person sent into space.

IMAGE: President John F Kennedy, John Glenn and General Leighton I Davis ride together during a parade three days after Glenn's historic spaceflight, in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photograph: NASA Handout/ Reuters

Glenn was a highly-decorated Marine who flew 59 combat missions in the South Pacific during World War II. During the Korean War, he flew 90 combat missions, using different models of new jet fighters.

In 1974, he was elected to represent Ohio in the US Senate. Two years later, Glenn’s name was among the running-mate hopefuls for Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter, but Carter ended up picking Sen Walter Mondale of Minnesota.

IMAGE: US President Barack Obama awards a 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Glenn during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on May 29, 2012. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters

He also campaigned in the Democratic primary for the 1984 presidential election, but ended up losing to Mondale.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honour, in 2012, by President Barack Obama.

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