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John H. Glenn, Jr.
by Tara Gray

Photo of John H. Glenn, Jr

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., Colonel USMC (Ret.), was born on July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio. He grew up in New Concord, Ohio, where he attended school and graduated from New Concord High School. He then enrolled in New Concord's Muskingum College where he received a B.S. in engineering.1 He had already learned to fly at the small New Philadelphia airfield through a government civilian pilot training program to let young men start learning how to fly while they were completing their education.2 He took the Army Air Corps physical examination, passed it and was sworn in. However, when no orders came he took the Navy's physical, which he also passed and was sworn into the Naval Aviation Cadet Program.3 His orders came right away and he left for training. He went to the University of Iowa for preflight training and then continued on to Olathe, Kansas, for primary training. He finished up with advanced training in Corpus Christi, Texas. While at Corpus Christi, he learned that he could volunteer for duty in the Marine Corps and receive a commission in the Marines rather than the Navy. He won his wings and lieutenant's bars in 1943,4 and on April 6 of that year, he married the former Anna Margaret Castor, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. H.W. Castor of New Concord.5

After a year of training, Glenn joined Marine Fighter Squadron 155 and spent a year flying F4Us in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific flying 57 combat missions.6 During his World War II service Glenn flew 59 combat missions. He then returned home to help train other pilots and do some test-pilot work at Patuxent River, Maryland, putting new planes through simulated combat missions.7 While Glenn was stateside, the war ended. Upon the end of WWII, Glenn joined Fighter Squadron 218 on North China patrol and had duty on Guam. From June 1948 until December 1950 Glenn was an instructor in advanced flight training at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. He then attended Marine Amphibious Warfare Training at Quantico, Virginia.8

By this time the Korean conflict had begun and Glenn requested combat duty.9 He flew F9F Panther jets for 63 ground-support missions10 with Marine Fighter Squadrons 311 and 27.11 Later, he was assigned as an exchange pilot with the Air Force in F-86 Sabrejets . In combat duty during the last nine days of fighting in Korea, Glenn shot down three MiGs along the Yalu River. For his service in 149 missions in two wars, he received numerous honors, including the Distinguished Flying Cross (six occasions) and the Air Medal with eighteen clusters.12

After Korea, Glenn applied for duty at the Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River and was accepted. While attending there he helped to test most of the Navy's new jets, particularly fighters.13 After graduation, he was project officer on a number of aircraft. He was assigned to the Fighter Design Branch of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics (now Bureau of Naval Weapons) as a test pilot on Navy and Marine Corps jet fighters in Washington, D.C., from November 1956 to April 1959, during which time he also attended the University of Maryland.14 In July 1957, while project officer of the F8U, he set a transcontinental speed record of 3 hours, 23 minutes and 8.4 seconds from Los Angeles to New York.15 This was the first transcontinental flight to average supersonic speeds.16

Project Mercury

While on duty at Patuxent and Washington, Glenn began to learn more and more about space. He read everything he could find on the subject and kept his eyes and ears open. His office was asked to furnish a test pilot to visit the NASA Laboratory at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and make some runs on one of the spaceflight simulators as a part of a NASA investigation of various reentry shapes. The same officer would go on from Langley to the Naval Air Development Center at Johnsville, Pennsylvania, to make runs on the large centrifuge there in order to compare data obtained from the simulator with data obtained from the centrifuge while under high G forces.17 Glenn requested and was given this assignment. He spent a few days at Langley and over a week in Johnsville, where he helped work out a mission on the centrifuge that simulated the conditions a pilot would go through as he made a re-entry from space.18

He was also involved in helping to design the Mercury capsule. NASA requested service participation in drawing up the plans for the mock-up of the capsule, which it was already considering, pending selection of the Astronauts. Because of his participation in the Langley/Johnsville project, his sitting on a number of mock-up boards in the Navy and his knowledge of the procedures, it was arranged for Glenn to go to the McDonnell plant in St. Louis, where the capsule mock-up was being discussed and act as one of the service advisors to the mock-up board.19

It was at this point that Glenn decided to begin trying to get into this program. Space travel was at the frontier of his profession and it was only natural that he want to be in on it.20 The Manned Space Program began in 1958 and by 1959, when the screening of the military test pilots was completed, Glenn's name was on the list of those who met the minimum requirements, along with over 100 others.21 This list was pared down through several screenings until Glenn was one of 32 prospective astronauts—along with Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, and 25 other pilots. NASA asked these pilots to take a series of tests which help to narrow the group further. Some of these tests were physical tests, to measure exactly how much stamina each pilots had, while other tests were psychological, to measure maturity and alertness and see what motivated each of the prospective astronauts.22 Following the intensive rounds of testing the pilots had a waiting period of ten to twelve days. During that time Glenn returned to his position at the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington. While there he received a call from Mr. Charles Donlan, the associate director of Project Mercury, asking him if he was still interested. Glenn replied that he was and Donlan informed him that he had been selected as a Mercury astronaut.23

Once selected, the astronauts began their training program at Langley. This included a "little of everything" ranging from a graduate-level course introductory space science to simulator training and scuba-diving. Training continued until the Langley Space task Force was transferred to Houston, Texas.24 When each of the Mercury astronauts were assigned a different portion of the project and special assignments, to ensure pilot input, Glenn specialized in the instrument panel layout, cockpit design and control functioning, including some of the early designs for Project Apollo.25

Prior to his flight Glenn served as backup pilot for Astronauts Shepard and Grissom. After eleven delays, due in part to equipment malfunctions or improvements and weather, he launched from Cape Canaveral (renamed Kennedy) and made America's first orbital flight on February 20,1962, piloting the Mercury-Atlas 6 Friendship 7 spacecraft on the first manned orbital mission of the United States.26 Near the end of the first orbit the automatic control system wasn't functioning properly. He went to manual control and continued in that mode during the second and third orbits and during re-entry. Another problem that Glenn encountered involved a signal sent to the ground via telemetry indicating that his spacecraft, Friendship 7, had a loose heat shield. In order to make sure it was secured in place during re-entry, the retropack was kept in place to steady the shield.27 During re-entry large portions of the burning retropack flew by the window but by that point there was sufficient aerodynamic force on the shield to hold it in position.28

His flight lasted 4 hours 55 minutes and 23 seconds and reached a maximum altitude (apogee) of approximately 162 statute miles, a minimum altitude (perigee) of 100 statute miles and an orbital velocity of approximately 17,500 miles per hour.29 He pulled a maximum of 7.7 Gs and traveled a total distance of 75,679 statute miles.30 Glenn's Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft landed in an area in the Atlantic approximately 800 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral in the vicinity of Grand Turk Island. He landed 41 miles west and 19 miles north of the planned landing target.31 Glenn and his spacecraft were recovered by the destroyer USS Noa. Lookouts on the destroyer spotted the main parachute at an altitude of 5,000 feet from a range of 5 nautical miles. The Noa had the spacecraft aboard 21 minutes after landing and Glenn remained in the spacecraft during the recovery operation. Original plans had called for egress through the top hatch but Glenn was becoming uncomfortably warm and it was decided to exit by the easier side hatch egress path.32

Glenn returned to the U.S. for a tremendous hero's welcome. President John F. Kennedy flew to Cape Canaveral to meet him. Glenn's family joined him there, too, and after a ceremony at which the President presented him with the Space Congressional Medal of Honor, Glenn took his wife and children up to the capsule—which had also been brought back to the Cape—and showed them how well it had sustained the flight. Then there were more celebrations, including a thunderous welcome in Washington and the traditional ticker-tape parade up Broadway in New York.33

Life after Mercury

Because of his age, 42, it became unlikely that Glenn might eventually take part in a lunar landing. Glenn resigned from the Manned Spacecraft Center on January 16, 1964 and the next day he announced plans to run for the Democratic nomination for the Senate in Ohio. On February 26, 1964, a bathroom rug slipped under him in his Columbus, Ohio, apartment, and Glenn fell, striking his head on the tub. He received a concussion which affected his inner ear balance.34 This injury produced swelling and bleeding which upsets the delicate and sensitive equilibrium mechanism. Glenn suffered from persistent and disabling symptoms of dizziness, nausea and a ringing noise which markedly restricted his physical movements.35 Weeks went by and his recovery remained slow. Doctors barred active campaigning. Supporters believed that he may have won the 5 May primary even without campaigning. However, on March 30, Glenn withdrew from the Senate race.36 He then went on convalescent leave from the Marine Corps in order to make a full recovery.37 He said he had decided to retire from the Marines when his retirement was acceptable. He could not retire until he passed his physical examination or his condition became static.

He was promoted to the rank of Colonel by the Marine Corps on October 27, 196438 and after 23 years of distinguished service to his country, Glenn retired from the Marines on January 1, 1965.39 In February 1965, he was named as a consultant to the NASA administrator and remained based in Houston, Texas. For the next five years, Glenn worked primarily as an executive with Royal Crown International, a soft drink company based in Atlanta, Georgia. He also served in the boards of several other corporations and made investments in hotel developments. When the aging Senator Stephen M. Young announced his intention to retire from politics in 1970, Glenn again announced his candidacy for Young's Senate seat. Glenn's campaign was badly organized and underfunded, and he was defeated. He learned from the defeat, however. He remained with Royal Crown until he won his seat in the U.S. Senate in November 1974 carrying all 88 counties of Ohio and was re-elected in 1980 with the largest margin in Ohio history. In 1983, he announced his intention to gain the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984. But, his campaign, like his 1970 Senate campaign, was considered by observers to be inefficient and unfocused. He dropped out of the race prior to the convention.40 Ohioans returned him to Senate for a third term in 1986, again with a substantial majority. In 1992, Glenn again made history by being the first popularly elected Senator from Ohio to win four consecutive terms.41 As a member of the 105th Congress, he is the Ranking Member of both the Governmental Affairs Committee and the Subcommittee on Airland Forces in the Senate Armed Services Committee. He also serves on the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Special Committee on Aging. He is considered one of the Senate's leading experts on technical and scientific matters, and is widely respected for his work to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.42

In the spring of 1997, Glenn returned to his alma mater and from the pulpit of Muskingum College's chapel announced to the country that he would retire from the Senate at the end of his current term. He emphasized that his public service was not ending and that he would seek ways to remain active. He expressed his interest in returning to space flight and offered himself for a mission that might serve to investigate the issue of aging.43

On January 16, 1998, NASA Administrator Dan Goldin announced the appointment of John Glenn as a member of the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery for mission STS-95, scheduled for October 29, 1998. He served as a payload specialist and a subject for basic research on how weightlessness affects the body of an older person.44 Glenn was a test subject for what is an expanded effort by NASA and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to study the aging process in older persons. At 77 years of age, Glenn was the oldest astronaut to fly in space, nearly twice the age of the average astronaut. He was assigned several areas of personal basic research, with monitoring to occur pre-flight, in-flight, and post-flight, along with other bio-research projects involving all crew members.45 Glenn was involved in two age-related experiments, as both a researcher and a guinea pig. One studied the way certain proteins are processed during weightlessness, in the hope that researchers will gain hints about what causes muscle weakening in space. The other looked into sleep patterns by comparing the circadian rhythm, or biological clock that governs alertness and sleepiness, between Glenn and the others in the crew.46 Glenn was also in charge of the flight's still and video photography.47

This mission also supported a variety of research payloads, including deployment of the Spartan solar-observing spacecraft, the Hubble Space Telescope Orbital Systems Test Platform, as well as investigations on space flight and aging.48

Glenn studied chemistry at Muskingum College, from September 13, 1939, to January 1942. He graduated from the Naval Aviation Cadet Program at the University of Iowa, in 1942, and graduated from the Naval Test Pilot School on July 23, 1954. Based on his studies at the Naval Test Pilot School and the University of Maryland, he received a B.S. in Mathematics. In June 1961, Muskingum College awarded Glenn with an honorary Doctorate of Science. He also received honorary Doctorates from Nihon University in Tokyo, Japan, Wagner College in Staten Island, New York, and New Hampshire College in Manchester, New Hampshire.49 To honor and recognize his contributions, New Concord has memorialized Glenn by renaming his high school after him. Highway 83 where his boyhood home is located is now called Friendship Blvd. Muskingum College renamed its athletic building, John Glenn Gymnasium. And the section of Interstate 40 linking Cambridge, Glenn's birthplace, with New Concord has been designated John H. Glenn Memorial Highway. There is also a one-third-scale model of the Friendship 7 Mercury Capsule, which is on permanent display in Muskingum College's Boyd Science Center. Currently, New Concord and Muskingum College are planning a museum in his name.50

Glenn is an honorary member of the International Academy of Astronautics, an inductee to the Aviation Hall of fame and National Space Hall of Fame, a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Marine Corps Aviation Association, Order of Daedalians, National Space Club Board of Trustees, National Space Society Board of Governors, International Association of Holiday Inns, Ohio Democratic Party, State Democratic Executive Committee, Franklin County (Ohio) Democratic Party, 10th District (Ohio) Democratic Action Club, and 33rd Degree Mason, elder of the Presbyterian Church, on the Muskingum College board of trustees, and participant in numerous charitable causes.51

Glenn is 5 feet 10-1/2 inches tall, weighs 168 pounds, and has green eyes and red hair. The Glenns have two children: John David, born December 13, 1945, and Carolyn Ann, born March 19, 1947. They also have two grandchildren. Glenn's parents, Mr. and Mrs. John H. Glenn of New Concord, are deceased.52


Carpenter | Cooper | Glenn | Grissom | Schirra | Shepard | Slayton


1. Glenn, John H. Jr., "John Glenn's Biography." About John Glenn, 1998. http://www.senate.gov/~glenn/about_john_glenn.html (July 8, 1998), pp. 1–2.
2. Carpenter, M. Scott, et al.We Seven(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962), pp. 34–35.
3. Ibid., pp. 35–36.
4. Ibid., p. 36.
5. Hawthorne, Douglas B. "Glenn, John H(erschel) Jr." Men and Women of Space (San Diego, California: Univelt Incorporated, 1992), p. 268.
6. "John Glenn." John Glenn Biography, 1998. http://muskingum.edu/~publicr/history/glenn.html (July 8, 1998), p. 1. Hereafter referred to as "John Glenn."
7. Carpenter, et al., p. 36.
8."John Glenn," p. 1.
9. Ibid., p. 1.
10. Carpenter, et al., p. 36.
11."John Glenn," p. 1.
12. Ibid., p. 2.
13. Carpenter, et al., p. 37.
14."John Glenn," p. 2.
15. Carpenter, et al., p. 37.
16.Glenn, p. 2.
17. Carpenter, et al., pp. 41–42.
18. Ibid., p. 42.
19. Ibid., pp. 42–43.
20. Ibid., p. 43.
21."John Glenn," p. 2.
22. Carpenter, et al., pp. 43–44.
23. Ibid., p. 45.
24."John Glenn," p. 3.
25. "Astronaut Bio: J. Glenn." Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center Biographical Data, 1998. http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/glenn-j.html (July 8, 1998), pp. 1–2. Hereafter referred to as "Astronaut Bio."
26. Ibid., p. 2.
27. John Glenn answers his most frequently asked questions about his historic orbital flight. John Glenn's Flight in Friendship 7, 1998. http://www.senate.gov/~glenn/f7.html (July 8, 1998), pp. 5–6.
28. Ibid., p. 6.
29."John Glenn," p. 3.
30. Dumoulin, Jim. "MA-6 (23)." NASA Project Mercury Mission MA-6. 1997. http://www.ksc.nasa.gov/history/mercury/ma-6/ma-6.html (July 20, 1998), p. 2.
31."John Glenn," p. 4.
32.Dumoulin, p. 2.
33. Carpenter, et al., p. 407.
34. Pett, Saul. "John Glenn's Irony: He Fights for Balance." The Nashville Tennessean, May 10, 1964, p. 2.
35. Mattson, Dr. Richard H. "Doctors Urge He Quit Race." New York Times, March 31, 1964, p. 19.
36.Pett, p. 2.
37. "Ailment Clouds Future of Glenn." New York Times, July 12, 1964.
38. "Glenn made Full Colonel in Marines." The Baltimore Sun, October 28, 1964.
39."Astronaut Bio," p. 2.
40.Hawthorne, p. 271.
41. Glenn, pp. 2–3.
42."John Glenn," p. 5.
43. Ibid., pp. 5–6.
44. "John Glenn Chosen for Space Shuttle Discovery." John Glenn's Flight on Discovery, 1998. http://www.senate.gov/~glenn/discovery.html (July 8, 1998), p. 1.
45. Ibid., pp. 2–3.
46. Montgomery, Scott. "For space hero John Glenn, October mission is already underway." New York Times News Service, July 19, 1998, p. 6.
47. Ibid., p. 3.
48."Astronaut Bio," p. 2.
49.Hawthorne, p. 269.
50."John Glenn," p. 4.
51.Hawthorne, p. 269.
52. Ibid., pp. 268–269.

Carpenter | Cooper | Glenn | Grissom | Schirra | Shepard | Slayton