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American hero and pioneering astronaut John Glenn dies aged 95

Glenn was the first US astronaut to orbit the earth.

John Glenns 50th Ohio State Source: AP/Press Association Images

JOHN GLENN, THE first US astronaut to orbit the earth, has died aged 95.

Glenn’s limit-defying career also saw him become the oldest man ever to fly in space when he boarded the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998.

Seen as a hero of the Cold War by the United States in his pioneering space race exploits, Glenn later went on to become a US Senator.

Born John Herschel Glenn Jr, he had two major career paths that often intersected: flying and politics, and he soared in both of them.

Before he gained fame orbiting the world, he was a fighter pilot in two wars, and as a test pilot.

Glenn’s public life began when he broke the transcontinental airspeed record, bursting from Los Angeles to New York City in three hours, 23 minutes and 8 seconds.

With his Crusader averaging 725 mph, the 1957 flight proved the jet could endure stress when pushed to maximum speeds over long distances.

In the early days of the space race, the Soviet Union leaped ahead in space exploration by putting the Sputnik 1 satellite in orbit in 1957.

Four years later, the Soviet Union launched the first man in space, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, in a 108-minute orbital flight on 12 April, 1961.

After two suborbital flights by Alan Shepard Jr. and Gus Grissom, it was up to Glenn to be the first American to orbit the Earth.

“Godspeed, John Glenn,” fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter radioed just before Glenn thundered off a Cape Canaveral launch pad on 20 February, 1962.

PA-8695673 Friendship 7 blasting off from Cape Canaveral with John Glenn inside. Source: AP/Press Association Images

With the all-business phrase, “Roger, the clock is operating, we’re underway,” Glenn radioed to Earth as he started his 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds in space.

Years later, he explained he said that because he didn’t feel like he had lifted off and it was the only way he knew he had launched.

During the flight, Glenn uttered a phrase that he would repeat frequently throughout life:

Zero G, and I feel fine.

Source: AP Archive/YouTube

Glenn said he was often asked if he was afraid, and he replied, “If you are talking about fear that overcomes what you are supposed to do, no. You’ve trained very hard for those flights.”

Glenn’s ride in the cramped Friendship 7 capsule had its scary moments, however.

Sensors showed his heat shield was loose after three orbits, and Mission Control worried he might burn up during re-entry when temperatures reached 3,000 degrees. But the heat shield held.

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John Glenn 50th Sen. John Glenn speaks during an interview at his office in Columbus, Ohio. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Glenn spent 24 years in the U.S. Senate, representing Ohio longer than any other senator in the state’s history until 1997.

During his time in the Senate, Glenn became an expert on nuclear weaponry and was the Senate’s most dogged advocate of nonproliferation. In 1984 he made an unsuccessful run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

His long political career enabled him to return to space in the shuttle Discovery at age 77 in 1998, a cosmic victory lap that he relished and turned into a teachable moment about growing old.

He holds the record for the oldest person in space.

Astronaut Tribute Astronauts, from left, Virgil Grissom, John Glenn and Alan Shepard. (May 1961) Source: AP/Press Association Images

In 1943, Glenn married his childhood sweetheart, Anna Margaret Castor.

They met when they were toddlers, and when she had mumps as a teenager, he came to her house, cut a hole in her bedroom window screen, and passed her a radio to keep her company, a friend later recounted.

“I don’t remember the first time I told Annie I loved her, or the first time she told me,” Glenn would write in his memoir. “It was just something we both knew.”

They had two children, Carolyn and John David.

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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