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Launching a Legacy: John Glenn’s Astronaut Career

News Type Public Address
100 Years: Celebrating a Remarkable Life of Service
By Joan Slattery Wall 

Remembering his 1962 mission as the first American to orbit Earth, Sen. John Glenn said people often have a misconception that liftoff is a tortuous moment for an astronaut. In reality, he’d describe it as gentle, with the maximum G-forces kicking in just before entering orbit. 

“Once you’re up there in our steady state in the Zero G, why, it’s very comfortable,” he said on the 50th anniversary of the flight. 


He shared that the astronauts used to joke about the Friendship 7 space craft. 

“We said, ‘You didn’t get into it, you actually put it on.’ It was more like putting on clothes, it was that small,” he said. 

His down-to-earth ways of sharing his experiences made us feel a small part of his remarkable space career, which we remember as we continue our celebrations of the 100th anniversary of his birth. He passed away in 2016.  

This year marks the 60th anniversary of his five hours and three orbits in space, from which Glenn returned a national hero and a symbol of American ambition. The flight is still regarded as one of the most important in American history.  

“More than remembering this aspect of his legacy, I hope people remember his commitment to serving our country, education, science and truth,” said his daughter, Lyn Glenn. “He was a decent, honorable man.” 

The New Glenn GS1 Simulator is transported from the manufacturing complex to the New Glenn launch site, Launch Complex 36 (LC-36) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. (Blue Origin photo)

One way his space legacy continues is through the New Glenn, an orbital, reusable launch vehicle under development by Blue Origin, which is building and launching partially and fully reusable launch vehicles that are safe, low cost and serve the needs of civil, commercial and defense customers. The New Glenn will be capable of carrying people and payloads routinely to space.

“John Glenn’s historic mission in 1962 charted our future course in space. His feat was a culmination of countless years of technological innovation, human ingenuity and an innate desire to explore the unknown, a Blue Origin spokesperson said. “It seemed befitting to name our orbital rocket after John Glenn, whose legacy as an aviator, astronaut and public servant inspires us to this day.

On Feb. 20, the date of Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission, Blue Origin hosted a cohort of friends and representatives from the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, including Glenn’s son, David. The visit featured a tour of the company’s 650,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art manufacturing complex on Merritt Island, Florida, as well as the New Glenn launch site at Cape Canaveral, Florida. They also visited the original launch site of the Friendship 7.

Making New Discoveries

On Oct. 29, 1998, Glenn, then 77, returned to space on the Discovery space shuttle’s STS-95 mission with a goal of seeking answers to the aging process.

He conducted a series of experiments related to the elderly, including protein research, cell aging and tissue engineering. The launch from the Kennedy Space Center made Glenn the oldest person to go into space at that time. His trip covered 134 orbits in nearly nine days, racking up 3.6 million miles.

“I was a data point of one, but it was a start, and I saw the flight as the first step in a process that I hoped would lead to a new area of research that could eventually benefit tens of millions of people,” Glenn wrote in his memoir.

During his second trip to space, he repeated a still-quoted sentiment from his Friendship 7 flight: “Zero G and I feel fine.”

“The two flights I was privileged to make stand as bookends of the history of space flight thus far,” he wrote in his memoir the year after the shuttle flight. “Now new volumes are being written.”

To wrap up the 100th anniversary celebrations, we will honor Glenn’s 1974-1999 U.S. Senate career as a key component of a June program and reception in Washington, D.C. The program will feature former Sen. Bill Nelson, former administrator of NASA, who will receive the college’s annual Excellence in Public Service Award. Event registration opens in May.

A Veteran First: Reflections of a Military Hero

In our celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Sen. John Glenn’s birthday and Veterans Day, the Glenn College in November teamed up with the National Veterans Memorial and Museum for a special event in celebration of his prestigious combat career as a Marine aviator. Dean Trevor Brown joined NVMM President and CEO Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter and Chief of Staff Col. Bill Butler for their November Rally Point, a virtual program dedicated to connecting and educating veterans, veterans’ families and those who wish to support veterans. Watch a recording of the hourlong program.

View more images from our visit to Blue Origin