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John Glenn, former astronaut, U.S. Senator and American hero, dies at 95

John Glenn, former astronaut and U.S. Senator, died today at the age of 95.

He was hospitalized more than a week ago, but the matter was kept private.  Glenn had heart valve replacement surgery in 2014.

Ohio Governor John Kasich posted a message on Twitter to memorialize Glenn, calling him "Ohio's ultimate hometown hero."

Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.  He piloted the Mercury space capsule, dubbed Friendship 7, and circled the planet three times in just under five hours on February 20, 1962. Of the original seven US astronauts who made up Project Mercury -- Glenn, Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Gordon Cooper, Scott Carpenter, Walter Schirra and Donald Slayton -- Glenn is the last surviving member.

Prior to his career as an astronaut, Glenn flew 149 missions during World War II and the Korean War and received multiple medals and decorations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross on six occasions.

He resigned from the astronaut program in 1964 and pursued a career in politics, serving as a US senator as a Democrat from Ohio between 1974 and 1999. He even ran for president in 1984. But Glenn's time in space wasn't over.

At 77, he became the oldest person to ever travel in space. Glenn was a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery for a nine-day mission in 1998.

In 2011, he received a Congressional Gold Medal alongside Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. In 2012, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

This year, he attended a celebration that saw the renaming of Port Columbus Airport to John Glenn Columbus International Airport.

Ties to Huntsville

It should come as no surprise that John Glenn's contributions are displayed front and center at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.

"We tell his story here every day," says Pat Ammons, the Director of Communications at the Rocket Center.

Training models of the Mercury 7 Friendship Module and the Atlas F Rocket that sent Glenn on his legendary ride, are on permanent display.

"He was the first in space, to orbit, to sleep, to do all these things that we do on Earth and to see things we’ve never seen before," says Joseph Vick, Manager of Museum Education for the Space and Rocket Center.

Glenn was also a major proponent of Space Camp.  "Who knows? The child that hears about John Glenn and where that might lead that child?” says Ammons.

Glenn spoke at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in 1983 as a part of his short-lived Presidential bid.  “He was the wholesome All-American you could look up to," says Vick.

With a career spanning the Marine Corps., NASA, the United States Senate, and then back again to NASA during the shuttle era as the oldest man in space, the Director of Museum Education at the Rocket Center thinks he showed the most courage during his early days in the "Mercury 7."

“Some were standing there watching the rockets be tested and the rocket would explode in front of them," Vick says.

For he agreed to potentially give up his life to take the first big leap for the country into space. Thank God he made it, because it was a life well lived.

 

“I think he’s the greatest astronaut ever," says Vick.