America’s Boy Scout
Around the World In Quarter A Day
February 20, 1962 — John Glenn takes off aboard an Atlas rocket, makes three orbits of the Earth in his Friendship 7 Mercury capsule, and splashes down in the Atlantic, 300 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida where he had escaped the Earth’s atmosphere, 4 Hours and 55 minutes earlier.
John Herschel Glenn Jr. (July 18, 1921 – December 8, 2016) was a United States Marine Corps aviator, engineer, astronaut, businessman, and politician. He was the first American to orbit the Earth, circling it three times in 1962. Following his retirement from NASA, he served from 1974 to 1999 as a Democratic United States Senator from Ohio.
Before joining NASA, Glenn was a distinguished fighter pilot in World War II, China and Korea. He shot down three MiG-15s, and was awarded six Distinguished Flying Crosses and eighteen Air Medals. In 1957, he made the first supersonic transcontinental flight across the United States. His on-board camera took the first continuous, panoramic photograph of the United States.
He was one of the Mercury Seven, military test pilots selected in 1959 by NASA as the nation’s first astronauts. On February 20, 1962, Glenn flew the Friendship 7 mission, becoming the first American to orbit the Earth, and the fifth person and third American in space. He received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 1962, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978, was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1990, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
Glenn resigned from NASA in January 1964. A member of the Democratic Party, Glenn was first elected to the Senate in 1974 and served for 24 years, until January 1999. In 1998, while still a sitting Senator, Glenn flew on the Discovery space shuttle’s STS-95 mission, making him the oldest person to fly in space and the only person to fly in both the Mercury and Space Shuttle programs. Glenn, the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven, died at the age of 95 in 2016. He is survived by his wife Annie Glenn, an advocate for people with disabilities and communication disorders
Early life and education
John Herschel Glenn Jr. was born on July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio, the son of John Herschel Glenn Sr., who worked for a plumbing firm, and Clara Teresa née Sproat, a teacher. His parents had married shortly before his father, a member of the American Expeditionary Force, left for the Western Front during World War I. The family moved to New Concord, Ohio, soon after his birth, and his father started his own business, the Glenn Plumbing Company. Glenn Jr. was only a toddler when he met Anna Margaret (Annie) Castor, who would later become his wife. The two would not be able to recall a time when they did not know each other. He first flew in an airplane with his father when he was eight years old. He became fascinated by flight, and built model airplanes from balsa wood kits. Along with his adopted sister Jean, he attended New Concord Elementary School. He washed cars and sold rhubarb to earn money to buy a bicycle, after which he took a job delivering The Columbus Dispatch newspaper. He was a member of the Ohio Rangers, an organization similar to the Cub Scouts. His boyhood home in New Concord has been restored as a historic house museum and education center.
Glenn attended New Concord High School, where he played on the varsity football team as a center and linebacker. He also made the varsity basketball and tennis teams, and was involved with Hi-Y, a junior branch of the YMCA. After graduating in 1939, Glenn entered Muskingum College, where he studied chemistry, was a member of the Stag Club fraternity, and played on the football team. Annie majored in music with minors in secretarial studies and physical education while competing on the swimming and volleyball teams. Glenn earned a private pilot license and a physics course credit for free through the Civilian Pilot Training Program in 1941. He did not complete his senior year in residence or take a proficiency exam, both required by the school for its Bachelor of Science degree.[a]
World War II
When the United States entered World War II, Glenn quit college to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was never called to duty by the Army, and enlisted as a U.S. Navy aviation cadet in March 1942. Glenn attended the University of Iowa in Iowa City for pre-flight training and continued at Naval Air Station Olathe in Kansas for primary training, where he made his first solo flight in a military aircraft. During advanced training at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, he accepted an offer to transfer to the U.S. Marine Corps. Having completed his flight training in March 1943, Glenn was commissioned as a second lieutenant. After advanced training at Camp Kearny, California, he was assigned to Marine Squadron VMJ-353, which flew R4D transport planes from there. Glenn married Annie in a Presbyterian ceremony at College Drive Church in New Concord, Ohio, on April 6, 1943.
The fighter squadron VMO-155 was also at Camp Kearny flying the Grumman F4F Wildcat. Glenn approached the squadron’s commander, Major J. P. Haines, who suggested that he could put in for a transfer. This was approved, and Glenn was posted to VMO-155 on July 2, 1943, two days before the squadron moved to Marine Corps Air Station El Centro in California. The Wildcat was obsolete by this time, and VMO-155 re-equipped with the F4U Corsair in September 1943. He was promoted to first lieutenant in October 1943, and shipped out to Hawaii in January 1944. VMO-155 became part of the garrison on Midway Atoll on February 21, then moved to the Marshall Islands in June 1944 and flew 57 combat missions in the area. He received two Distinguished Flying Crosses and ten Air Medals.
At the end of his one-year tour of duty in February 1945, Glenn was assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina, then to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. He was promoted to captain in July 1945 and ordered back to Cherry Point. There, he joined VMF-913, another Corsair squadron, and learned that he had qualified for a regular commission. In March 1946, he was assigned to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in southern California. He volunteered for service with the occupation in North China, believing that it would be a short tour. He joined VMF-218 (another Corsair squadron), which was based at Nanyuan Field near Beijing, in December 1946, and flew patrol missions until VMF-218 was transferred to Guam in March 1947.
In December 1948, Glenn was re-posted to NAS Corpus Christi as a student at the Naval School of All-Weather Flight before becoming a flight instructor. In July 1951, he was sent to the Amphibious Warfare School at Marine Corps Base Quantico in northern Virginia for a six-month course. He then joined the staff of the Commandant of the Marine Corps Schools. Given only four hours of flying time per month, he maintained his proficiency (and flight pay) by flying on weekends. He was promoted to major in July 1952. Glenn received the World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with one star), Navy Occupation Service Medal (with Asia clasp), and the China Service Medal for his efforts.
Glenn took a short period of leave during which he moved his family back to New Concord, and after two and a half months of jet training at Cherry Point, was ordered to South Korea in October 1952, late in the Korean War. Before he set out for Korea in February 1953, he applied for an inter-service exchange position with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to fly the F-86 Sabre jet fighter-interceptor. In preparation, he arranged with Colonel Leon W. Gray to check out the F-86 at Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts. Pending this exchange assignment, Glenn reported to K-3, an airbase in South Korea, on February 3, 1953, and was assigned to be the operations officer for VMF-311, one of two Marine fighter squadrons there. VMF-311 was equipped with the F9F Panther jet fighter-bomber. Glenn’s first mission was a reconnaissance flight on February 26. He flew 63 combat missions in Korea with VMF-311, and was nicknamed “Magnet Ass” because of the number of flak hits he took on low-level close air support missions; twice, he returned to base with over 250 holes in his plane. He flew for a time with Marine reservist Ted Williams (a future Hall of Fame baseball player with the Boston Red Sox) as his wingman, and also flew with future major general Ralph H. Spanjer.
In June 1953, Glenn’s USAF exchange position came through and he reported for duty with the USAF’s 25th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, and flew 27 combat missions in the F-86, a much faster aircraft than the F9F Panther, patrolling MiG Alley. Combat with a MiG-15, which was faster and better armed still, was regarded as the apogee for a fighter pilot. On the USAF buses that took the pilots out to the airfields before dawn, pilots who had been shot at by a MiG could sit while those who had not had to stand. Glenn later wrote, “Since the days of the Lafayette Escadrille during World War I, pilots have viewed air-to-air combat as the ultimate test not only of their machines but of their own personal determination and flying skills. I was no exception.” He hoped to become the second Marine jet flying ace after John F. Bolt. When Glenn complained about there not being any MiGs to shoot at, his USAF squadron mates painted “MiG Mad Marine” on his aircraft. He shot down his first MiG in a dogfight on July 12, 1953, downed a second one on July 19, and a third on July 22 during an aerial engagement in which four Sabres shot down three MiGs. These were the final air victories of the war, which ended with an armistice five days later. For his service in Korea, Glenn received two more Distinguished Flying Crosses and eight more Air Medals. Glenn also received the Korean Service Medal (with two campaign stars), United Nations Korea Medal, Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, National Defense Service Medal (with one star), and the Korean War Service Medal.
With combat experience as a fighter pilot, Glenn applied for training as a test pilot while still in Korea. He reported to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River in Maryland in January 1954, and graduated in July. At Patuxent River the future Medal of Honor recipient, James Stockdale tutored him in physics and math. Glenn’s first flight test assignment, testing the FJ-3 Fury, nearly killed him when its cockpit depressurized and its oxygen system failed. He also tested the armament of aircraft such as the Vought F7U Cutlass and F8U Crusader. From November 1956 to April 1959, he was assigned to the Fighter Design Branch of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, D.C., and attended the University of Maryland.
On July 16, 1957, he made the first supersonic transcontinental flight. At that time, the transcontinental speed record, held by an Air Force Republic F-84 Thunderjet, was 3 hours 45 minutes and Glenn calculated that an F8U Crusader could do it faster. Because its 586-mile-per-hour (943 km/h) air speed was faster than that of a .45 caliber bullet, Glenn called his project Project Bullet. He flew an F8U Crusader 2,445 miles (3,935 km) from Los Alamitos, California to Floyd Bennett Field in New York City in 3 hours, 23 minutes and 8.3 seconds, averaging supersonic speed despite three in-flight refuelings when speeds dropped below 300 miles per hour (480 km/h). His on-board camera took the first continuous, transcontinental panoramic photograph of the United States. He received his fifth Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel on April 1, 1959. His cross-country flight made him a minor celebrity. A profile piece appeared in The New York Times and he appeared on the television show Name That Tune. He now had nearly 9,000 hours of flying time, including about 3,000 hours in jets.
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite. This damaged American confidence in its technological superiority, creating a wave of anxiety known as the Sputnik crisis. In response, President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the Space Race. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established on October 1, 1958, as a civilian agency to develop space technology. One of its first initiatives was announced on December 17, 1958. This was Project Mercury, which aimed to launch a man into Earth orbit, return him safely to the Earth, and evaluate his capabilities in space.
While Glenn was on duty at Patuxent and in Washington, he read everything he could find about space. His office was asked to send a test pilot to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to make runs on a spaceflight simulator, as part of research by the newly formed NASA into re-entry vehicle shapes. The pilot would also be sent to the Naval Air Development Center in Johnsville, Pennsylvania, and would be subjected to high G-forces in a centrifuge for comparison with data collected in the simulator. His request for the position was granted, and he spent several days at Langley and a week in Johnsville for the testing. NASA asked military-service members to participate in planning the mockup of a spacecraft. As he had participated in the research at Langley and Johnsville, he was sent to the McDonnell plant in St. Louis as a service adviser to NASA’s spacecraft mockup board.
NASA received permission from Eisenhower to recruit its first astronauts from the ranks of military test pilots. The service records of 508 graduates of test pilot schools were obtained from the United States Department of Defense. From these, 110 were found that matched the minimum standards: the candidates had to be younger than 40, possess a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, and be 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 m) or less. Only the height requirement was strictly enforced, owing to the size of the Project Mercury spacecraft. This was fortunate for Glenn, who barely met the requirements, as he was near the age cutoff and lacked a science-based degree. The 110 were then split into three groups, with the most promising in the first group. The first group of 35, which included Alan Shepard, assembled at the Pentagon on February 2, 1959. The Navy and Marine Corps officers were welcomed by the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh Burke, and the USAF officers were addressed by the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General Thomas D. White. Both pledged their support to the Space Program, and promised that the careers of volunteers would not be adversely affected. NASA officials then briefed them on Project Mercury. They warned that it would be a hazardous undertaking, but emphasized that it was of great national importance.
The Original 7 w/F-106.
The briefing process was repeated with a second group of 34 candidates a week later. Of the 69, six were found to be over the height limit, 15 were eliminated for other reasons, and 16 declined. This left NASA with 32 candidates. As this seemed an adequate number from which to select 12 astronauts, NASA decided not to bother with the remaining 41 candidates. The degree of interest also indicated that far fewer would drop out during training than anticipated, which would result in training astronauts who would not be required to fly Project Mercury missions. It was decided to cut the number of astronauts selected to six. Then came a grueling series of physical and psychological tests at the Lovelace Clinic and the Wright Aerospace Medical Laboratory. Only one candidate, Jim Lovell, was eliminated on medical grounds at this stage, and the diagnosis was later found to be in error; thirteen others were recommended with reservations. The director of the NASA Space Task Group, Robert R. Gilruth, found himself unable to select only six from the remaining eighteen, and ultimately seven were chosen.
After testing, the astronaut candidates had to wait 10 to 12 days for the results. Glenn had returned to his position at the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics when he received a call from the associate director of Project Mercury, Charles Donlan, offering him a position. The identities of the seven were announced at a press conference at Dolley Madison House in Washington, D.C., on April 9, 1959: Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton. In The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe wrote that Glenn “came out of it as tops among seven very fair-haired boys. He had the hottest record as a pilot, he was the most quotable, the most photogenic, and the lone Marine.” The magnitude of the challenge ahead of them was made clear a few weeks later, on the night of May 18, 1959, when the seven astronauts gathered at Cape Canaveral to watch their first rocket launch, of an SM-65D Atlas, which was similar to the one that was to carry them into orbit. A few minutes after liftoff, it exploded spectacularly, lighting up the night sky. The astronauts were stunned. Shepard turned to Glenn and said: “Well, I’m glad they got that out of the way.”
Glenn remained an officer in the Marine Corps after his selection, and was assigned to the NASA Space Task Group at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The task force moved to Houston, Texas, in 1962, and became part of the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center. A portion of the astronauts’ training was in the classroom, where they learned space science. The group also received hands-on training, which included scuba diving and work in simulators. Astronauts secured an additional role in the spaceflight program: to provide pilot input in design. The astronauts divided the various tasks between them. Glenn’s specialization was cockpit layout design and control functioning for the Mercury and early Apollo programs. He pressed the other astronauts to set a moral example, living up to the squeaky-clean image of them that had been portrayed by Life magazine, a position that was not popular with the other astronauts.
Friendship 7 flight
February 20, 1962.
Glenn was the backup pilot for Shepard and Grissom on the first two crewed Project Mercury flights, the sub-orbital missions Mercury-Redstone 3 and Mercury-Redstone 4. Glenn was selected for Mercury-Atlas 6, NASA’s first crewed orbital flight, with Carpenter as his backup. Putting a man in orbit would achieve one of Project Mercury’s most important goals. Shepard and Grissom had named their spacecraft Freedom 7 and Liberty Bell 7. The numeral 7 had originally been the production number of Shepard’s spacecraft, but had come to represent the Mercury 7. Glenn named his spacecraft, number 13, Friendship 7, and had the name hand-painted on the side like the one on his F-86 had been. Glenn and Carpenter completed their training for the mission in January 1962, but postponement of the launch allowed them to continue rehearsing. Glenn spent 25 hours and 25 minutes in the spacecraft performing hangar and altitude tests, and 59 hours and 45 minutes in the simulator. He flew 70 simulated missions and reacted to 189 simulated system failures.
After a long series of delays, Friendship 7 lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on February 20, 1962. There were eleven delays during the countdown due to equipment malfunctions and improvements and the weather. During Glenn’s first orbit, a failure of the automatic-control system was detected. This forced Glenn to operate in manual mode for the second and third orbits, and for re-entry. Later in the flight, telemetry indicated that the heat shield had loosened. If this reading had been accurate, Glenn and his spacecraft would have burned up on re-entry. After a lengthy discussion on how to deal with this problem, ground controllers decided that leaving the retrorocket pack in place might help keep the loose heat shield in place. They relayed these instructions to Glenn, but did not tell him that the heat shield was possibly loose; although confused at this order, he complied. The retrorocket pack broke up into large chunks of flaming debris which flew past the window of his capsule during re-entry; Glenn thought this might have been the heat shield. He told an interviewer, “Fortunately it was the rocket pack—or I wouldn’t be answering these questions.” After the flight, it was determined that the heat shield was not loose; the sensor was faulty.
Friendship 7 safely splashed down 800 miles (1,290 km) southeast of Cape Canaveral after Glenn’s 4-hour, 55-minute flight.[b] He carried a note on the flight which read, “I am a stranger. I come in peace. Take me to your leader and there will be a massive reward for you in eternity” in several languages, in case he landed near southern Pacific Ocean islands. The original procedure called for Glenn to exit through the top hatch, but he was uncomfortably warm and decided that egress through the side hatch would be faster. During the flight, he endured 7.8 G of acceleration and traveled 75,679 miles (121,794 km) at about 17,500 miles per hour (28,200 km/h). The flight took Glenn to a maximum altitude (apogee) of about 162 miles (261 km) and a minimum altitude of 100 miles (160 km) (perigee). The flight made Glenn the first American to orbit the Earth, the third American in space, and the fifth human in space.[c] The mission, which Glenn called “best day of his life”, renewed U.S. confidence. His flight occurred while the U.S. and the Soviet Union were embroiled in the Cold War and competing in the Space Race.
As the first American in orbit, Glenn became a national hero, met President John F. Kennedy, and received a ticker-tape parade in New York reminiscent of those honoring Charles Lindbergh and other heroes. He became “so valuable to the nation as an iconic figure”, according to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, that Kennedy would not “risk putting him back in space again.” Glenn’s fame and political potential were noted by the Kennedys, and he became a friend of the Kennedy family. On February 23, 1962, President Kennedy gave him the NASA Distinguished Service Medal for his Friendship 7 flight. Upon receiving the award, Glenn said, “I would like to consider I was a figurehead for this whole big, tremendous effort, and I am very proud of the medal I have on my lapel.” Glenn also received his sixth Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts. He was among the first group of astronauts to be awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. The award was presented to him by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. After his 1962 spaceflight, NASA proposed giving Glenn the Medal of Honor, but Glenn did not think that would be appropriate. His military and space awards were stolen from his home in 1978, and he remarked that he would keep this medal in a safe.
In 1962, NASA contemplated recruiting women to the astronaut corps, but Glenn gave a speech before the House Space Committee detailing his opposition to sending women into space, in which he said:
I think this gets back to the way our social order is organized, really. It is just a fact. The men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes and come back and help design and build and test them. The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order.
NASA had no official policy prohibiting women, but the requirement that astronauts had to be test pilots effectively excluded them. NASA dropped this requirement in 1965, but did not select any women as astronauts until 1978, when six women were selected, none as pilots. In June 1963, the Soviet Union launched a female cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova into orbit. After Tereshkova, no women of any nationality flew in space again until August 1982, when the Soviet Union launched pilot-cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya. During the late 1970s, Glenn reportedly supported Space Shuttle Mission Specialist Judith Resnik in her career.
• JOHN GLENN (Pg.2) Cont’d