John Herschel Glenn, Jr. was born on July 18, 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio. When Glenn was two years old his family moved to New Concord, Ohio, where his father, John Herschel Glenn, Sr., opened a plumbing business. His mother, Clara Sproat Glenn, was a schoolteacher and a graduate of Muskingum College located in New Concord. John and Clara Glenn were married on May 25, 1918 at a time when Glenn was in the U.S. Army for service in the First World War. Two weeks after his wedding Glenn left for a year of overseas duty in France. Upon his return, Glenn worked for a time as a railroad fireman, then apprenticed as a plumber in Zanesville, Ohio, until starting his own business in 1923.
When the family moved to New Concord, the Glenns built a home located on State Route 40 on the west side of town. The house was larger than most for the time period and included extra upstairs rooms, which the family rented out to college students and other boarders. The widening of the highway in the early 1940s necessitated moving the house to a plot on Bloomfield Road on the north side of town. In March 2001, the house was moved back to a location on State Route 40, where it currently serves as the John and Annie Glenn Historic Site and Exploration Center.
John H. Glenn, Jr. experienced the typical childhood of a middle-class boy growing up during the 1920s and 1930s in a small Midwestern town where people kept their doors unlocked and school-aged children were free to roam the town and its environs. An only child until the age of five, Glenn gained a sister in 1926 when his parents adopted a baby girl named Jean. The years Glenn spent in New Concord had a profound influence on his character and shaped the values he carried with him throughout his later careers.
The small town atmosphere gave Glenn a sense of community and the firm belief in an individual's responsibility to that community. Patriotism also was a key ingredient in Glenn's childhood. His father served as a bugler during his years in the army and continued to play the instrument in New Concord during celebrations marking patriotic holidays. As a young boy, John Glenn, Jr. learned to play the trumpet and would join with his father in the playing of echo taps on Memorial Day. The Great Depression also had a large impact on Glenn's childhood. The Glenn family plumbing business, like most small businesses, struggled to survive during the severe economic hardships of the early 1930s. In living through these years, Glenn learned by necessity to appreciate the values of both frugality and hard work.
Educated in the local schools, Glenn played varsity football, basketball, and tennis in high school and was president of his junior class. He was a member of the town band, was active in the Hi-Y organization sponsored by the local YMCA, and had a lead role in the senior class play. High school further shaped Glenn's concepts of citizenship and patriotism. His high school civics teacher, Harford Steele, brought history, politics and government to life for Glenn and instilled in Glenn the idea that within a democracy one person truly could make a difference in improving the lives of the average citizen.
Another factor in Glenn's childhood, and arguably the biggest influence in his life, was a girl named Anna Margaret Castor. Known as Annie, she was the daughter of Dr. Homer Castor, the town dentist. He and his wife, Margaret, were good friends of John and Clara Glenn. Due to this friendship, John Glenn, Jr. and Annie Castor grew up together from infancy. The couple starting dating seriously while in high school, were married on April 6, 1943, and became the parents of John David Glenn and Carolyn Ann Glenn in the late 1940s. A talented musician, Annie played the trombone, piano, and pipe organ and graduated in 1942 from Muskingum College with a degree in music. Although hampered most of her life by a severe stuttering problem, Annie never let her disability impinge upon her independence. In March 1964, for example, when John Glenn became bedridden due to an accident during his first run for the U.S. Senate she undertook a full schedule of public appearances in an effort to keep his campaign active. She overcame her impediment in the late 1970s through extensive speech therapy and became a national spokesperson advocating programs for those with speech and hearing disabilities. As she has done throughout her life, Annie continues to be John Glenn's biggest supporter and most insightful critic.
Ever since his first ride on an airplane, taken with his father on a barnstormer's WACO aircraft when he was eight years old, John Glenn had an affinity for aviation. After graduating from high school in 1939, Glenn entered Muskingum College initially planning on a degree in chemistry. Having second thoughts about his major during his sophomore year, Glenn jumped at a chance to gain his pilot's license through the Civilian Pilot Training Program funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Administered through the college's physics department, the program paid the cost of the flight instructions and gave college credits in physics. Glenn applied for the program, gained admission, and earned his private pilot's license on June 26, 1941.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Glenn determined to use his newly acquired flying skills in the war effort. He left Muskingum College in the middle of his junior year and enlisted in the Army Air Corps, which sent him back to New Concord to await orders for military flight school. After waiting three months for his orders from the Army, in March 1942 Glenn enlisted again, this time with the Navy as an aviation cadet. Two weeks later he arrived at the Navy's pre-flight school located at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. After the three-month course in Iowa, Glenn moved on to primary flight training in Olathe, Kansas and then to basic and advanced training in Corpus Christi, Texas. Glenn transferred from the Navy into the U.S. Marine Corps during his training in Corpus Christi and earned his wings as a second lieutenant at the end of March 1943. Eventually assigned after graduation to VMO-155, a Marine fighter squadron flying the new F4U Corsair, Glenn spent the next months in California training with his new squadron. In February 1944, the squadron received orders for overseas duty in the Pacific Theater of the war.
After an initial assignment on Midway Island, VMO-155 arrived at Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands in July 1944 for its first combat duty. The squadron's primary mission consisted of strafing and bombing runs on military installations located on various Japanese controlled atolls bypassed during the American advance up the island chain. In keeping with this advance the squadron moved to Kwajalein Atoll in November 1944. Glenn completed his overseas tour of duty in February 1945 with the rank of captain, having flown fifty-nine combat missions and sustaining damage to his Corsair by anti-aircraft fire on five occasions. For his meritorious service Glenn received two Distinguished Flying Crosses and ten Air Medals.
Assigned upon his return to the United States to Cherry Point, North Carolina, and later to the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland, Glenn spent the remainder of the war test flying aircraft. After the war ended in August 1945, Glenn decided to stay in the military. He enjoyed life in the U.S. Marine Corps, had considerable skills as a pilot, and thrived on the challenges inherent in flying the latest developments in military aircraft. During the late 1940s Glenn went through a number of duty assignments, most notably in 1946 and 1947 with VMF-218, a Marine fighter squadron based at Nan Yuan Field outside the Chinese capital of Peiping. Glenn spent much of the early 1950s furthering his military and aviation training. He completed the Naval School of All-Weather Flight at Corpus Christi, Texas in 1950 and graduated from the Amphibious Warfare School located in Quantico, Virginia in 1951. Glenn obtained the rank of major in June 1952.
In early 1953, after numerous attempts to transfer from training assignments to a fighter squadron, Glenn received orders for combat duty in Korea. Arriving at the airbase near P'ohang, Korea in February 1953, Glenn spent the next four months as the operations officer of VFM-311, a Marine squadron flying the F9F Panther jet fighter-bomber. While with the squadron Glenn flew sixty-three combat missions bombing and strafing enemy positions and infrastructure in North Korea. Severely hit during two missions by anti-aircraft fire, Glenn earned two more Distinguished Flying Crosses and an additional eight Air Medals for his steadiness under fire. Baseball star Ted Williams, called up for active duty from the Marine Corps Reserve, often flew as Glenn's wingman during missions.
In the late spring of 1953, Glenn applied for and gained admission into the U.S. Air Force pilot exchange program. Transferred temporarily to an air base near Suwon, Korea, he became a pilot with the Air Force's 25th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron flying the F-86 Sabre jet fighter. Glenn flew twenty-seven missions during June and July with the 25th FIS, usually patrolling for enemy aircraft along the border between China and North Korea. While on these patrols Glenn shot down three enemy MiG jet fighters and earned the nickname, "MiG Mad Marine."
When Glenn returned from Korea at the end of 1953, he obtained a coveted assignment to the test pilot program at the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland. After an intense six-month course of study Glenn graduated from the test pilot school in July 1954 and spent the next two years testing the armament design on new Navy and Marine aircraft. Transferred in November 1956 to the Fighter Design Branch of the Navy Department's Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, D.C., Glenn continued to be involved in the development of new aircraft. Most of his work was with the new Chance Vought F8U Crusader jet fighter he had flown as a test pilot in Maryland. While with the Fighter Design Branch, Glenn conceived the idea of using the F8U Crusader in an attempt to break the existing transcontinental speed record. His plan called for an average speed above the supersonic level and faster than the 586 miles per hour traveled by a bullet fired from a .45-caliber pistol. Glenn named his proposal "Project Bullet."
After many months spent planning the project and persuading the military of its merits, Glenn took off in an F8U-1P Crusader from Los Alamitos Naval Air Station in California at 6:04 am on July 16, 1957. Three hours and twenty-three minutes later, in a flight involving refueling in mid-air three times, Glenn landed at Floyd Bennett Field on Long Island. He broke the existing record by twenty-one minutes, averaging 723 miles per hour in the first coast-to-coast supersonic flight. Project Bullet earned Glenn his fifth Distinguished Flying Cross and brought him to the attention of the general public for the first time. Newspapers across the country published his picture and a story on the flight, with The New York Times writing that at thirty-six Glenn was close to the "practical age limit for piloting complicated pieces of machinery through the air." New Concord, Ohio held its first parade in Glenn's honor and he appeared on the television program "Name That Tune," where he split $25,000 in winnings with his partner, child actor Eddie Hodges.
Two years later John Glenn was in the public spotlight once again, but this time the publicity was far more intense and lasting. On October 4, 1957, with the launch by the Soviet Union of Sputnik, the world's first Earth satellite, the United States entered into a competition with the Soviets for technological superiority in the eyes of the world. In July 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), with the main objective of placing an American into space. Later that year Glenn became one of the more than one hundred military test pilots to volunteer for selection into Project Mercury, NASA's first manned space program. On April 8, 1959, Glenn joined Lt. M. Scott Carpenter, Lt. Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr., and Lt. Commander Alan B. Shepard, Jr. of the U.S. Navy and Captain L. Gordon Cooper, Captain Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, and Captain Donald K. "Deke" Slayton of the U.S. Air Force at a press conference introducing the newly appointed Project Mercury astronauts. Of the seven astronauts, Glenn, recently promoted to Lt. Colonel, was the sole representative from the U.S. Marine Corps.
During the selection process the seven astronauts underwent extensive medical examinations at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, followed by equally intense physical and psychological testing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Following their selection into the NASA space program the Mercury astronauts began a full schedule of training designed to prepare them for what scientists could then only speculate would be the conditions encountered in space. Other training familiarized the astronauts with the Mercury spacecraft in which they would travel into orbit. From the beginning of their training the seven astronauts insisted they be directly involved in the development of Project Mercury, especially in the design of the spacecraft itself. Early in the program, for example, the astronauts demanded unanimously that the spacecraft be equipped with a window rather than just a retractable telescope. All were test pilots who believed strongly in the necessity of having the means to actively control their spacecraft, rather than simply be passengers in some automated system. Due to their demands, each astronaut became involved in some aspect in the design of the spacecraft. During his first two years with NASA, when he was not undergoing some aspect of his training, Glenn worked with the team of engineers developing the instrument control panel for the Mercury spacecraft.
From the beginning of Project Mercury each of the seven astronauts, being competitive by nature, vied to become the first American launched into orbit. To John Glenn's disappointment, early in 1961 NASA officials chose Alan Shepard to pilot the first space flight, followed by Gus Grissom and then Glenn. Circumstances surrounding events in space that year, however, made Glenn's spot as the astronaut for the third space flight fortuitous. NASA originally planned for the first three Mercury launches to be sub-orbital flights in which the spacecraft would arch briefly into space before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean east of Cape Canaveral. NASA's first two manned launches, Alan Shepard's flight on May 5, 1961 aboard Freedom 7 and Gus Grissom's flight aboard Liberty Bell 7 on July 21, 1961, both successfully obtained such sub-orbital journeys into space. NASA's plans for the third flight changed when on August 6, 1961 Gherman Titov became the second cosmonaut to orbit the Earth for the Soviet Union. Titov's 24-hour, seventeen-orbit space flight followed closely after the one orbit flight of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin launched on April 12, 1961. The success of the Shepard and Grissom flights, plus the need to match the Soviet Union's space exploits, convinced NASA administrators to make the agency's third space flight the first attempt to place an American into orbit. In November 1961, NASA announced that John Glenn would pilot the first American attempt at orbital space flight.
Tentatively scheduled for launch sometime in December 1961, weather and technical problems forced repeated cancellations of Glenn's space flight. On one occasion, January 27, 1962, Glenn spent six hours strapped on his back inside the spacecraft waiting for weather conditions to clear before NASA officials cancelled the launch. Finally, after ten postponements NASA successfully launched its Mercury-Atlas Mission Number 6 on February 20, 1962. At 9:47 in the morning, after a two-hour weather delay, Glenn rode his Friendship 7 spacecraft into orbit atop the Atlas booster rocket number 109-D. Over the course of the next four hours and fifty-six minutes Glenn, flying between 160 and 256 kilometers above the Earth's surface at a rate of more than 28,000 kilometers per hour, orbited Earth three times and splashed down without incident into the Atlantic Ocean near Grand Turk Island in the Bahamas.
Although an overall success, Glenn's time in space was not without incident and a fair amount of suspense. Toward the end of the first orbit the spacecraft's automatic control system malfunctioned throwing the capsule's yaw attitude some 20 degrees to the right. Glenn spent much of the remaining two orbits on manual control as he tried repeatedly to reset the gyros of the automatic control system. Toward the end of the flight a warning light, which subsequently turned out to be a false reading, indicated the heat shield on Friendship 7 was loose. This warning caused some nervous moments for the flight's controllers since a damaged heat shield could result in the disintegration of the spacecraft and its pilot during the 3,000-degree heat of re-entry. To cope with the perceived problem technicians decided to keep the retro-rocket pack attached to the heat shield to help secure it. The normal procedure called for jettisoning the pack after the rockets fired to slow the spacecraft for re-entry. The result was what Glenn called "a real fireball" as the pack burned away during his re-entry through the atmosphere.
Despite these glitches, Glenn's flight aboard Friendship 7 proved a triumph for the fledgling NASA manned space program. During his flight Glenn performed a series of experiments designed to test man's ability to function in the weightlessness of space. Prior to the flight of Friendship 7 scientists outside of the Soviet Union could only speculate on the affects upon the human body of prolonged exposure to zero gravity. There were doubts as to a person's ability to breath properly, to coordinate physical tasks, or to swallow food in a weightless environment. Some scientists theorized that a person's eyes would not maintain their proper shape, while others thought zero gravity would cause havoc with the equilibrium in the inner ear, causing debilitating nausea. None of these theories proved correct. Glenn ate solid malt tablets and food from tubes as he orbited Earth and underwent a variety of physical tests. Asked repeatedly how he felt throughout the flight by doctors and ground controllers, Glenn reported no symptoms of nausea.
Although much of his time in space was taken up by the problems caused by the malfunctioned control system, Glenn did provide observations on his view of Earth from space to the sixteen ground control stations located around the globe. He noted a large dust storm over the Sahara desert, commented on the lights of Perth, Australia turned on as an experiment to test his night vision, and gave detailed descriptions of the three sunsets and sunrises he went through during the course of the space flight. He also took photographs of Earth through the spacecraft's window with a handheld camera, using up four rolls of film during his time in space. The Friendship 7 space flight ended at 2:43 pm EST after a flawless re-entry and splashdown. Twenty-one minutes later the destroyer U.S.S. Noa hoisted the spacecraft with Glenn still inside onto its deck. Glenn later transferred by helicopter to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Randolph, where he spent some time debriefing before being flown that evening to Grand Turk Island for two days of more extensive debriefings and medical tests.
The space flight of John Glenn aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft came at a time of increased Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Berlin Wall was built during the year prior to the launch and in the autumn of 1962 the world witnessed the Cuban missile crisis. In 1961, the Soviet Union surged ahead of the United States in the "Space Race" with the orbital flights of cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov. Public expectations in the United States, therefore, were high as NASA attempted to match Soviet achievements by placing an American into orbit. In keeping with NASA's policy of openness, the major networks broadcast the Friendship 7 launch live on television to millions of people around the world. Thousands of people gathered in spots around Cape Canaveral to witness the launch in person, while in New York City an estimated crowd of 5,000 people paused during their daily commute to view the launch on a large monitor set up in Grand Central Station.
The success of the Friendship 7 space flight sent the nation into a patriotic fervor and made the mission's astronaut an instant hero. John Glenn's name was on the front page of newspapers across the country and around the globe. After the flight Glenn received hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail from people living in every state in the union and from close to one hundred foreign countries, including the Soviet Union. In thousands of elementary classrooms in America schoolchildren wrote letters about and drew pictures of the event. Many classes bound their efforts together into an album sent to Glenn with a cover letter from the teacher stating what an inspiration he was to the children. Glenn received hundreds of invitations for public appearances at events ranging from local Boy Scout meetings to meetings of prestigious scientific organizations. Scores of individuals sent him the poem or song they wrote to commemorate the space flight, while across the country, school buildings, streets, and newborns were named after Glenn.
During the two weeks immediately following Glenn's space flight, the nation celebrated on a scale not seen since Charles Lindbergh's solo trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. On February 23, 1962, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson flew to Grand Turk Island to escort Glenn on a flight to Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, where Glenn was reunited with his family. The Glenn family, accompanied by Vice President Johnson and some of the Mercury astronauts, then proceeded by automobile to Cape Canaveral where they were scheduled to meet with President John F. Kennedy. The eighteen-mile trip between the air force base and the NASA facility turned into a parade as thousands of people from around Cocoa Beach stood along the highway to greet the returned astronaut. Later that day, during ceremonies held at Cape Canaveral, President Kennedy presented Glenn with NASA's Distinguished Service Medal.
By invitation of President Kennedy, on February 26th the Mercury astronauts and their families met with the president and vice president at a White House reception. After the event, John and Annie Glenn, riding in an open car with Vice President Johnson, led a parade through Washington, D.C. to the Capitol Building. Despite dismal rainy weather thousands of people lined the route. Upon arrival at the Capitol Building, Glenn had the rare honor of giving a speech to a special joint session of Congress.
New York City vividly illustrated the public enthusiasm over the success of the Friendship 7 space flight when the Mercury astronauts arrived there on March 1, 1962. An estimated four million people turned out in frigid temperatures to cheer as John and Annie Glenn, again in an open automobile with Vice President Johnson, rode in a procession down Broadway, temporarily named Astronaut Way for the event. New Yorkers showered thirty-five hundred tons of paper along the route in the biggest ticker tape parade in the city's history. The motorcade stopped shortly after noon at City Hall, where Glenn gave a brief speech to a cheering crowd. It then proceeded to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where Glenn received the city's Medal of Honor at a luncheon held in honor of the Mercury astronauts. The following day the astronauts visited the United Nations, where Glenn gave a brief address. He stressed, as he had in all his speeches following the space flight, the team effort required to place a man in orbit and the importance of the space program to the nation.
On the next day, March 3, 1962, John and Annie Glenn returned to their hometown of New Concord, Ohio for their fourth parade in eight days. On another cold and blustery day 75,000 people converged on the small town of 2,100 residents in east central Ohio to get a glimpse of the local hero. After the parade Glenn gave a speech to a packed gymnasium during ceremonies held at Muskingum College. As part of the ceremonies the college, John and Annie Glenn's alma mater, named the gymnasium for its famous alumnus.
After the initial outpouring of public jubilation about his space flight, Glenn returned to his work in the NASA space program. Over the course of the next two years he worked on the design of the crew station in the Apollo spacecraft and manned various ground control stations during later Project Mercury missions. He also became a goodwill ambassador for the space agency. He toured Japan in 1963, various countries in Europe in 1965 and 1966, and often met with leaders in Congress. The awards and tributes continued unabated. Glenn lobbied hard with NASA officials to return to space as part of the two-man or three-man crews of the Gemini and Apollo programs, but was denied all requests. Unknown to Glenn at the time, President Kennedy had judged him to be too valuable a national asset to risk in another space flight. It would be thirty-six years after the flight of Friendship 7 until NASA finally granted John Glenn his request to return to space.
Public recognition of the feat he achieved on February 20, 1962 has followed John Glenn all of his life. In a statement he wrote in 1982 for the 20th anniversary of the flight Glenn noted how "it is a rare day, even now, that someone does not ask me something about that orbital experience." One result of his space flight was the friendship Glenn formed with both President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert. The two Kennedy brothers recognized the political potential of Glenn's popularity. With their support Glenn resigned from his position with NASA, submitted his retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps, and ran for the U.S. Senate in the 1964 Ohio Democratic primary. Glenn's first political campaign ended abruptly, however, when a head injury sustained in an accidental fall forced him to drop out of the race.
Although John Glenn eventually made a full recovery, the initial injury to his head left him bedridden with severe vertigo and required more than nine months of recuperation. Glenn spent much of his convalescence reading through his mail. Hundreds of thousands of children and adults wrote him a letter following the Friendship 7 space flight. He received thousands more letters in response to his decision to enter politics and in reaction to his accident and injury. While recovering from his injury, Glenn sorted through this massive amount of correspondence and compiled more than four hundred of his favorites. In late 1964, the World Book Encyclopedia Science Service, Inc. published these letters in a book titled, P.S. I Listened to Your Heartbeat: Letters to John Glenn.
After his aborted attempt to enter politics, John Glenn entered the business world when the Royal Crown Cola Company hired him as vice president for corporate development in October 1964. Beginning in 1966, Glenn served the company as the president of Royal Crown International. His duties took him to countries around the world where he negotiated agreements for the distribution of the company's products. During the 1960s and early 1970s Glenn also served on the editorial board of the World Book Year Book and was a member of the Board of Directors of the Questor Corporation, an international consumer products conglomerate comprised of companies manufacturing automotive parts and sporting goods. In 1967, Wolper Productions, Inc. selected Glenn to retrace the route through Africa taken during 1871 by Sir Henry Stanley in his search of Dr. David Livingstone. The production company broadcasted footage of Glenn's trip as part of their "Great Explorations" television program.
In the late 1960s Glenn joined into a partnership with Henri Landwirth and other businessmen to build a Holiday Inn franchise motel in Florida. Glenn and Landwirth originally met and became friends in 1960 when Landwirth was the manager of the hotel in Cocoa Beach, Florida where the Mercury astronauts stayed while training at Cape Canaveral. The partnership built a hotel on land near the new Disney World theme park south of Orlando. The success of this motel eventually led to the development by the partnership of three more successful Holiday Inns in the Orlando area.
John Glenn continued to explore the political arena throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. He campaigned heavily in 1968 with Robert Kennedy during Kennedy's tragically aborted presidential campaign. In 1970, Glenn once again entered the Ohio Democratic primary, but lost to Cleveland businessman, Howard H. Metzenbaum. Later that year Ohio Governor John Gilligan appointed Glenn as chairman of the Citizens Task Force on Environmental Protection. The task force surveyed the environmental problems in Ohio and made various recommendations to rectify those problems in a final report published in June 1971. The work accomplished by the task force was a major factor in the formation of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
In the 1974 Democratic primary, John Glenn tried for a third time to obtain a seat in the U.S. Senate. His opponent in the primary election once again was Howard Metzenbaum. Glenn beat Metzenbaum at the polls this time by a margin of one hundred thousand votes and went on to win his first term in the U.S. Senate in the November general election. Glenn subsequently won re-election to the U.S. Senate three times - his twenty-four years of public service a record for a Senator from Ohio. A landslide victory in his 1980 re-election campaign convinced him to seek the Democratic Party's nomination for president in the 1984 elections. Seen by many in 1983 as a front-runner in the campaign, Glenn was forced to drop out of the race in March 1984 after poor showings in the early primaries. He left the race saddled with a large campaign debt that took him more than a decade to settle. The debt issue did not deter his popularity with the voters of Ohio, however, as Glenn won re-election to the Senate in 1986 and 1992 by large margins.
As a U.S. Senator, Glenn quietly worked for legislation designed to improve the lives of Americans. He is perhaps best known as the author of numerous bills to restrict the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world. Glenn's background in science and technology made him a leader in the passage of regulations designed to clean up the decades of radioactive waste piled up at the nation's nuclear weapons sites. A proponent of government efficiency, Senator Glenn also proposed and helped pass legislation to create inspector generals in federal departments and agencies to end waste, fraud and abuse in government spending.
From his years spent as a military test pilot and NASA astronaut Glenn also brought to the Senate a firm belief in the value to the nation of basic scientific and technological research and development. This belief extended not only to his support for the nation's space program, but also to every aspect of human inquiry into the unknown. In a statement made in 1987 for the 25th anniversary of the Friendship 7 space flight, Senator Glenn called Americans "a curious questing people" and said, "the exploration of the unknown is nothing less than an expression of America's spirit." In this spirit of exploration of the unknown, Senator Glenn made his celebrated return to space in 1998.
From his work as a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, in the mid-1990s Senator Glenn began to see parallels between the human aging process and some of the negative symptoms experienced by astronauts exposed for a lengthy period of time to the weightlessness of a space environment. After discussing his ideas with numerous doctors and scientists he found many of them interested in one day doing research about the similarities between aging and space travel. Glenn began meeting with NASA officials on this topic in 1995, and participated in an Aging and Space Flight Conference held in February 1997. It was generally agreed that in order to learn more about possible connections between the aging process on Earth and the weightlessness of space, NASA needed to send an older individual into space. Glenn saw himself as the ideal candidate. After a thorough review on the merits of the scientific knowledge to be gained by sending an older person into space, NASA officials agreed to place Glenn on an upcoming space shuttle mission if he could pass the mandatory physical requirements demanded of all current astronauts. Glenn passed the required physical without difficulty, so in January 1998 NASA announced the selection of Glenn as a payload specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery Mission STS-95 scheduled for late October.
John Glenn spent the next eight months commuting between his duties in Washington, D.C. and his training in Houston, Texas for the NASA mission. He also found time to deal with the enormous media attention generated by his selection as a shuttle astronaut. The public responded overwhelmingly with support for his decision to once again travel into space. As in 1962, Glenn found himself the recipient of thousands of cards and letters from both children and adults writing to express their thoughts on his latest endeavor. As a seventy-seven year old astronaut and the oldest person ever to travel in space, Glenn became an inspiration to a generation of senior citizens and an example of how age and activity need not be exclusive.
The Space Shuttle Discovery launched into orbit on October 29, 1998 for a nine-day mission. During the mission the seven crewmembers used a SPACEHAB module to conduct over eighty experiments, released and then retrieved a Spartan satellite built to study the Sun and solar winds, and tested hardware slated for use in a later shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. In addition to his duties as a payload specialist, John Glenn underwent a series of medical tests prior to, during, and after the space flight. NASA designed the tests to monitor for various medical conditions such as osteoporosis, muscle loss, and immune system suppression commonly suffered by astronauts due to the absence of gravity. Other experiments tested Glenn's balance and perception, his protein metabolism, and his heart and blood flow. Glenn also wore a harness during many of his nights in space to monitor sleep disorders, another common problem in space travel. After a successful mission totaling one hundred and thirty-four orbits Discovery touched down at Cape Canaveral on November 7, 1998.
The completion of his second trip into space coincided with the close of John Glenn's career in the U.S. Senate. On February 20, 1997, the 35th anniversary of the Friendship 7 space flight, he announced his intention to retire from the Senate when his fourth term expired at the end of 1998. As he stated in his retirement speech, however, Glenn viewed leaving the U.S. Senate not as an end, but as a beginning in a new phase of his life. In 1999, Glenn co-chaired with Senator Robert Dole the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching. He chaired the National Commission on Service Learning from 2000-2002, and continues to have an active interest in ways to combine learning and community service for high school and college students.
After careers as a Marine aviator, NASA astronaut, and U.S. Senator, Glenn came to deplore the negative image many young people hold towards a public service career. Determined to do what he could to reverse this negativity, in October 1998 he joined with The Ohio State University to create the John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy. Glenn presently holds a position as an adjutant professor in both the Department of Political Science and the School of Public Policy and Management at Ohio State and is Chairman of the Board of Directors for the John Glenn Institute. Through these positions Glenn continues to share the knowledge gained from more than fifty years of service to the public.