When most of us think of John Glenn, we think of the American hero and legend that was the first man to orbit the Earth back in 1962.
We think of the image of what we’ve seen on television and read in our history books of him launching on the tip of an Atlas rocket to pave the way in the beginning of America’s manned space program. While I was not alive to witness this first, I respect and give John Glenn the courage to strap on top of a rocket to see what will happen to his body after being in space for more than a few minutes. His voyage on his capsule, “Friendship 7” orbited the planet 4 times and came back a hero. America cheered and made celebrities of astronauts back then and I wish that the same were done today.
Since that mission, John Glenn was known to be a senator from the state of Ohio, and was chosen by NASA to return to space for a second time in 1998. The mission was STS-95 and it would be aboard the space shuttle Discovery. He would return to space to participate in experiments that would focus on the aging process. At the age of 77, he would become the oldest person to fly in space.
This mission I remember well because I was 20 years old at the time and I was working at a bookstore that no longer exists, “Waldenbooks” at their calendar kiosk. I was working in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on October 29, 1998 (the day of the launch), and I was helping set up the fixtures that the calendars will rest on for the holiday season and the new year. There was a television in the back that had CNN’s coverage of John Glenn’s return to space. The launch happened without major incident. The only anomaly was the door that housed the drag chute just under the shuttle’s tail fell off. It didn’t cause any damage and the mission went on successfully.
John Glenn’s research on that flight helped give drug companies and doctors data on how to treat osteoporosis and other ailments that affect the elderly. He returned to earth on November 7, 1998 and upon his return, he didn’t come home to a world that had stopped turning to keep up with his spaceflight. America had become vastly different and it’s harder to dazzle us.
In reflection of his passing, I think about how much we’ve come in technology and how the world has changed overall since I’ve been alive. At age 95, John Glenn’s life has been anything but mundane. In the 1970s he became a senator, and while the STS-95 mission, he was still an active senator. He was also a presidential candidate in 1984. I hope that one day we will get a sitting president that will give our space program the boost it needs. John Glenn was a hero and American icon. He will be missed.
Godspeed, John Glenn.