John Glenn, the former astronaut and U.S. senator — and a man universally hailed as a 20th-century American hero for his great space exploits — passed away Thursday at the age of 95.
The first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, Glenn was the last surviving member of the original seven “Right Stuff” Mercury astronauts.
He was also the world’s oldest astronaut. He is credited with reviving U.S. pride after the Soviet Union’s early domination of manned space exploration.
His three laps around the world in the Friendship 7 capsule on Feb. 20, 1962, forged a powerful link between the former fighter pilot and the Kennedy-era quest to explore outer space as a “New Frontier,” as Reuters and other news outlets have noted.
Glenn served as a U.S. senator from Ohio from 1974 to 1999.
“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 Kasich in a statement Thursday afternoon.
“Our nation has lost an icon,” said President Obama.
Donald Trump, the president-elect, said, “Today we lost a great pioneer of air and space in John Glenn. He was a hero and inspired generations of future explorers. He will be missed.”
Glenn had been hospitalized for more than a week at James Cancer Hospital at The Ohio State University. Glenn had experienced some health issues in recent years, including a stroke he suffered two years ago after having had heart valve replacement surgery.
“We are saddened by the loss of Sen. John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth. A true American hero,” NASA said in a statement. “Godspeed, John Glenn. Ad astra [to the stars].”
Glenn was a military hero before he was an astronaut. As a Marine fighter pilot, he flew 149 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross six times. He leaves behind his wife, Annie Glenn, and two children.
Glenn had been teaching as an adjunct professor at Ohio State University until recently. “He leaves an undiminished legacy as one of the great people of our time,” said Michael Drake, president of the university.
“We mourn the passing and celebrate the life of Sen. John Glenn,” said the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. “His legacy of friendship and discovery will live in our halls forever.”