AIAA Mourns the Death of Sen. John H. Glenn Jr.
First American to Orbit Earth, Former U.S. Senator, and AIAA Honorary Member
December 9, 2016 – Reston, Va. – The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) mourns the death of Sen. John H. Glenn Jr., Col., U.S. Marine Corps (retired); former senator from the State of Ohio, the first American to orbit the Earth; the oldest human to have gone into space; and an AIAA Honorary Member. He was 95 years old.
“As we mourn the passing of a true hero and AIAA Honorary Member, we remember his pioneering spirit,” said AIAA President Jim Maser. “John H. Glenn Jr. captured so much of the American ideal, displaying undaunted courage, unparalleled leadership, and an unyielding commitment to defend freedom and build a better tomorrow. His groundbreaking endeavors on behalf of America’s space program helped usher in a new age of exploration. In the U.S. Senate, he helped bring about an end to the Cold War, worked tirelessly to keep space exploration and research a national priority, and was an early advocate for STEM education. On behalf of a grateful nation, we at the Institute forever thank him for his lifetime of public service.”
Glenn was one of the original seven astronauts assigned to NASA’s Project Mercury in 1959. On February 20, 1962, piloting the Mercury-Atlas 6 “Friendship 7” spacecraft, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. On October 29, 1998, he became the oldest human in space at age 77, when he was a member of Space Shuttle Discovery’s crew for a 10-day mission to study the effects of the space environment on older people. In honor of his accomplishments in space, NASA’s facility in Cleveland, Ohio, was renamed the John H. Glenn Research Center.
Glenn served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II, flying 59 combat missions. During the Korean War, Glenn flew 90 combat missions and downed three MIG fighters. After the Korean War, Glenn became a test pilot at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland, and later served in the Fighter Design Branch of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics (now the Bureau of Naval Weapons) in Washington, D.C. In July 1957, while project officer of the F8U Crusader, he set a transcontinental speed record from Los Angeles, California, to New York, New York, spanning the country in 3 hours and 23 minutes — the first transcontinental flight to average supersonic speed. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1965 with the rank of colonel.
Elected to the U.S. Senate from his native Ohio in 1974, Glenn was the chief author of the 1978 Non-Proliferation Act, which sought to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons and ease Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. In addition to his work on nuclear proliferation issues, Glenn served as the chairman of the Committee on Governmental Affairs from 1987 until 1995, and sat on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees and the Special Committee on Aging. Glenn retired from politics in 1999. Glenn was also an adjunct professor of political science at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University, in Columbus, Ohio.
Glenn received many honors during his life, including six Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Air Medal with 15 clusters and two stars for his service during World War II and the Korean Conflict, the Marine Corps' Astronaut Medal, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the AIAA Haley Space Flight Award, the AIAA Foundation Award for Excellence; the Robert J. Collier Trophy, the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1978 he was named an AIAA Honorary Member, a distinction bestowed by the Board of Directors on fewer than 20 people in Institute history. The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame inducted him in 1990.