COLUMBUS — After entering the naval aviation cadet program, John Glenn flew 59 combat missions in the Pacific during World War II, and flew 90 missions in Korea – very important to the war effort. But it wasn’t the headline-grabbing news he would make more than a decade later.
In April 1959, Glenn and six other astronauts were introduced as the first human space voyagers as NASA debuted the Mercury Project — manned flights launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Alan Shepard was first with his 15-minute flight, reaching an altitude of 116 miles. But it was Glenn’s historic flight that gave America a reason to cheer the space race.
On Feb. 20, 1962, with his Friendship 7 capsule, Glenn circled the earth three times during his nearly five-hour flight. It was the success of the Mercury program that laid the foundation of the moon landing Apollo missions later in the decade.
Although his historic flight pushed Glenn’s name into hero status, the first American in flight wanted to be among the first on the moon.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great experiences in my life, and I’m thankful for them. So I don’t see myself as being envious, but in this case, I’ll make an exception,” Glenn said during an interview with the Associated Press in 2012.
Glenn made history again, as retired Marine Colonel. At the age of 77, he became the oldest person to travel in space. Glenn flew with the title of Payload Specialist on the Discovery Space Lab mission in 1998, proving that even in his senior years, the New Concord native had the right stuff.
Glenn was the last surviving member of the Mercury 7 program.