Biography for John Glenn
A former marine pilot, John Herschel Glenn Jr. in 1962 became the first American to orbit Earth. The hero status he achieved in space helped him win a seat in the U.S. Senate years later. A prominent member of this body for years, Glenn made the news again in 1998 by becoming the first septuagenarian in space, when he flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery. Glenn was born in Cambridge, Ohio on July 18, 1921, the only son of the proprietor of a plumbing and heating business. He graduated from high school in 1939 and enrolled at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio. He studied engineering there and while enrolled, began taking flying lessons. After the United States entered World War II, he volunteered for the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in 1942 and later became a pilot in the Marine Corps. Serving in the Pacific theater of operations, Glenn flew 59 missions and earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and 10 Air Medals. Glenn remained on active duty after the war and also fought in Korea during 1950-1953, flying 90 more missions and earning more decorations. After the war, he became a military test pilot and flew some of the fastest jets in the world. He established a transcontinental speed record in 1957, when he flew an F8U-1 cruiser from New York to Los Angeles in three hours, 23 minutes. He also won notoriety as a successful contestant on the game show "Name That Tune." After the Soviet Union launched the first Sputnik spacecraft in 1957, the U.S. government initiated its space program, and Glenn volunteered to join the elite group of astronauts. He and six other military test pilots were selected in 1959 to participate in what became known as Project Mercury. The program's goal was to launch the first manned space flight to orbit Earth, but the Soviet Union accomplished this goal first in April 1961. After Alan Shepard became the first American in space in May 1961, Glenn was scheduled to orbit Earth later that year. The mission was repeatedly delayed because of technical problems and bad weather and was finally completed on February 20, 1962. Glenn made three orbits of Earth in just under four hours before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. The accomplishment made him a national hero. Despite his new hero status, Glenn was continually frustrated in his efforts to gain the opportunity to return to space. He resigned from the space program in early 1964 and turned to politics. He entered the Democratic primary for the nomination for a seat in the U.S. Senate but was forced to withdraw after a fall damaged his inner ear. Working the next few years as an executive for Royal Crown Cola and as a member of the board of directors for the Questor Corporation, Glenn bided his time until another political opportunity arose. He entered the U.S. Senate race in 1970 but lost the Democratic primary to Howard Metzenbaum, who later lost in the general election. Glenn later expressed the belief that his association with the space program kept people from recognizing his merits as a political candidate. Nonetheless, he entered the ring again in 1974, again competing with Metzenbaum for the Democratic nomination for a Senate seat. Exploiting Metzenbuam's use of legal loopholes in paying his taxes, Glenn defeated his favored opponent and went on to trounce Republican Ralph J. Perk in the general election. Glenn's star was on the rise in the wake of his election to the Senate. He was chosen as the keynote speaker at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, but his unimpressive performance in this role doomed his chances to become the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter. This setback, however, did not harm his popularity in Ohio, which elected him to a second term in 1980 with 69% of the vote. Glenn later was proclaimed one of the favorites when he announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 1984. Again, however, his uninspiring public-speaking performances hurt him in the early primaries, and he withdrew from the race early on. In the Senate, Glenn made a name for himself as an expert on energy policy and a major player in defense and foreign affairs, especially nuclear nonproliferation. His work against the proliferation of nuclear technology often put him at odds with Republican president Ronald Reagan during the 1980s. Glenn suffered a major blow to his reputation in the late 1980s, when he became involved in a scandal with four other senators who were implicated in the efforts of savings-and-loan operator Charles Keating to buy political influence. Glenn, who with his fellow senators became known as the "Keating Five," was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing. The scandal still damaged Glenn politically, and he was given a major challenge by Republican Mike DeWine in his 1992 reelection bid. DeWine attacked Glenn for his failure to pay off his presidential campaign debts and portrayed him as out of touch with voters. Glenn staved off the challenge, however, and retained his seat in a close election. On February 20, 1997, the 35th anniversary of his space flight, Glenn announced his retirement from the Senate at the end of his term. During this time, he served as a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. In this position, he won approval for a space launch that would send a senior citizen into space to study the effects of aging on a person's response to space flight. He won approval for the project, and in January 1998, it was announced that he would become the oldest person ever to go into space. Glenn's flight in October of that year prompted a renewal of praise for Glenn as a space pioneer and thrust him into the spotlight at the end of his political career. In his second space flight, Glenn spent nine days aboard the comparatively spacious Discovery (in contrast to the few hours he spent in a cramped space capsule in 1962) and made 134 orbits. After his retirement, Glenn chaired the National Commission on Mathematics in Education for the 21st Century and worked with the John H. Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at Ohio State University.