John Glenn, first American to orbit Earth, dies at 95

Tom Hinde

John Glenn, one of the seven original astronauts in NASA's Mercury program, has died at age 95. A family source confirmed Glenn had been in declining health, but a specific cause of death was not immediately announced. He was the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven. Glenn joined the Navy in 1942 and later transferred to the aviation branch of the Marine Corps. He flew 149 combat missions in World War II and the Korean War before becoming a test pilot.

The U.S. government formed NASA in 1958 and recruited Glenn as an astronaut. On February 20, 1962, he piloted Friendship 7 becoming the first American to orbit the Earth. A television audience of 135 million, the largest up to that time, witnessed the launch. The flight lasted nearly 5 hours, and Glenn became the public face of NASA.

After a failed senate run in 1964, Glenn went to work in the private sector and enjoyed tremendous success. He ran again for the U.S. Senate in Ohio in 1974 and won four consecutive elections. In 1998, while still a senator, he became the oldest person to fly in space as a member of the Discovery space shuttle.