The first American to orbit the Earth — longtime Ohio senator and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom John Glenn — has died at age 95.
“We mourn this tremendous loss for our nation and the world,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “As one of NASA’s original Mercury 7 astronauts, Glenn’s riveting flight aboard Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962, united our nation, launched America to the forefront of the space race, and secured for him a unique place in the annals of history.”
“While that first orbit was the experience of a lifetime, Glenn, who also had flown combat missions in both World War II and the Korean War as a Marine aviator, continued to serve his country as a four-term Senator from Ohio, as a trusted statesman, and an educator,” he added.
Glenn, who had been hospitalized for the past week, became the oldest astronaut in 1998 when he joined the crew of the Discovery on a mission at age 77.
“Glenn’s extraordinary courage, intellect, patriotism and humanity were the hallmarks of a life of greatness,” Bolden said. “His missions have helped make possible everything our space program has since achieved and the human missions to an asteroid and Mars that we are striving toward now.”
President Obama said in a statement that “with John’s passing, our nation has lost an icon and Michelle and I have lost a friend.”
“The last of America’s first astronauts has left us, but propelled by their example we know that our future here on Earth compels us to keep reaching for the heavens,” Obama said.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) remembered Glenn as “always trying to make Washington more down to Earth – closer and more responsive to the needs of the little guys and gals.”
“He also had a strong respect for the environment,” she added. “When introducing his Department of the Environment Act, he noted that, having had the rare privilege to view the Earth in all of its beauty and grandeur from space, he was struck by how thin and fragile the environment is that sustains life on our planet.”
Georgia GOP Sen. Johnny Isaskson called Glenn “one of the greatest heroes of my generation.”
“He led America to space and sought peace around the world,” Isakson said. “He will be missed by the citizens of Ohio and Americans everywhere.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who served in the House at the same time Glenn was in the Senate, remembered the former astronaut’s fight against unfunded federal mandates.
“And he was the leader over here in the Senate among Democrats on that issue, which was not necessarily a popular issue for Democrats. And I worked with him as the Republican lead on the House side. We got that bill done to try to stop the federal mandates,” Portman said. “So, that was his legacy also. He was a legislator, and he was serious about that mission as well.”
Glenn took a shot at the presidential nomination in 1984. Portman said he thinks Glenn “will go down in history as having been one where he was viewed as too centrist for the party at that time.”
Portman said Glenn, who had a stroke a few years ago, showed up last month to an advisory board meeting of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University. “He showed up in good humor, as always, engaged, wanting to help,” the Ohio Republican said. “In this case, we wanted to set up a leadership institute to help other young Ohioans be motivated to get into public service. He thought that was a such a noble calling.”
“So, his time in space is bracketed by other accomplishments that are sometimes forgotten, but added together equal his amazing legacy.”