Nation mourns space pioneer John Glenn's passing

By Greg Pallone, Cheryn Stone and Christie Zizo, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Thursday, December 08, 2016, 10:41 PM EST

Former astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn has died at 95, according to Ohio State University's president.

  • John Glenn had been in the hospital for more than a week
  • No word on his condition or illness
  • 1st American to orbit the Earth in 1962
  • RELATED: NASA pays tribute to John Glenn


OSU President Michael Drake issued the following statement Thursday:

“The Ohio State University community deeply mourns the loss of John Glenn, Ohio’s consummate public servant and a true American hero. He leaves an undiminished legacy as one of the great people of our time.

“Senator Glenn was a decorated U.S. Marine aviator, legendary NASA astronaut, tireless public servant, and an unparalleled supporter of The John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State, where he served actively as an adjunct professor until just recently. He was an authentic hero whose courage, integrity, sacrifice and achievements inspired people, young and old, around the world.

“Most importantly, he was a loving husband, father and grandfather. He and his wife, Annie, have been the definition of model citizens. Meeting them was among life’s greatest privileges. Spending time with them was a blessing.

“On behalf of the Ohio State community, I extend my heartfelt condolences to Annie and the entire Glenn family.”

On Wednesday, a spokesperson with Ohio State University's John Glenn College of Public Affairs said Glenn, 95, was admitted to James Cancer Hospital and had been there for more than a week.

John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962 as a member of the original Mercury 7 astronaut team.

Glenn made three orbits around the planet and spent five hours in space in his Mercury-Atlas 6 "Friendship 7" spacecraft. His work helped pave the way for subsequent space exploration.

Glenn served in World War II and the Korean War before he became a test pilot in the 1950s.

He returned to space in 1998 aboard Space Shuttle Discovery for a nine-day mission that included a study of the aging process and spaceflight. He became the oldest person to fly in space.

Glenn also served in the U.S. Senate for his home state of Ohio from 1974 to 1999.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Former NASA astronaut remembers John Glenn

A journey into space in 1962 would skyrocket John Glenn as an American hero as the first US astronaut to orbit Earth. It is an accomplishment former NASA Astronaut Robert Springer looks at in awe.

“The things he stood for, the things he did, the things he accomplished were absolutely fantastic,“ Springer said. 

Springer met Glenn many times over the years. In addition to role model, Glenn was also Springer’s senator in his hometown of Ohio. The Democrat spent some 24 years representing the state.

At 77 years old, Glenn became the oldest person to travel in space when he was aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998.

President Obama awarded the pioneer the Medal of Freedom in 2012.

Springer last spent time with Glenn at a reunion for Ohio astronauts.

"He stood by his word. One of the finest gentleman I've ever known and one of my personal heroes,” Springer said.

WATCH: 50th Anniversary of the Friendship 7

NASA released this video on the 50th anniversary of John Glenn's mission and orbital space flight in 2012.  

WATCH: John Glenn on America as a leader in research, space and education

Statements on John Glenn's passing

President Barack Obama awarded John Glenn the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. Glenn also supported Obama's runs for the White House. The White House issued this statement:

"When John Glenn blasted off from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas rocket in 1962, he lifted the hopes of a nation.  And when his Friendship 7 spacecraft splashed down a few hours later, the first American to orbit the Earth reminded us that with courage and a spirit of discovery there's no limit to the heights we can reach together. 

"With John's passing, our nation has lost an icon and Michelle and I have lost a friend.  John spent his life breaking barriers, from defending our freedom as a decorated Marine Corps fighter pilot in World War II and Korea, to setting a transcontinental speed record, to becoming, at age 77, the oldest human to touch the stars. 

"John always had the right stuff, inspiring generations of scientists, engineers and astronauts who will take us to Mars and beyond--not just to visit, but to stay. 

"Today, the people of Ohio remember a devoted public servant who represented his fellow Buckeyes in the U.S. Senate for a quarter century and who fought to keep America a leader in science and technology. 

"Our thoughts are with his beloved wife Annie, their children John and Carolyn and the entire Glenn family.  The last of America's first astronauts has left us, but propelled by their example we know that our future here on Earth compels us to keep reaching for the heavens.  On behalf of a grateful nation, Godspeed, John Glenn."

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted this statement:

Sen. Bill Nelson, who worked with Glenn in Congress, issued this statement on the U.S. Senate floor:

"Mr. President, it is my sad duty to announce the passing of John Glenn. John Glenn was one of the original seven astronauts of this country. All of them were characterized as having the ‘right stuff.’ And if you knew any of them, that was certainly true.

"John Glenn was not only a pioneering astronaut, a great senator, he was a first-class gentleman and also he was a devoted husband and father. He leaves behind Annie, his beloved, who always stood with him as he ventured into the unknown cosmos. And it was unknown because John was the first to go into orbit as an American.

"He paved the way for all the rest of us, and now at his passing, America is in the planning and the developing of the rockets that will take us, a human species, all the way to Mars. John Glenn was the pioneer. He was the one who paved the way."

NASA has created a tribute page for Glenn, with a bio, articles, pictures and video going back to the early days of the space program. The space agency tweeted this statement:

Glenn was a U.S. Marine who fought in World War II and the Korean War. The Marines tweeted this statement:

Astronauts past and present also honored Glenn, including former astronaut and NASA administrator Charlie Bolden:

"Today, the first American to orbit the Earth, NASA astronaut and Ohio Senator John Glenn, passed away. We mourn this tremendous loss for our nation and the world. As one of NASA's original Mercury 7 astronauts, Glenn's riveting flight aboard Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962, united our nation, launched America to the forefront of the space race and secured for him a unique place in the annals of history.  

"While that first orbit was the experience of a lifetime, Glenn, who also had flown combat missions in both World War II and the Korean War as a Marine aviator, continued to serve his country as a four-term Senator from Ohio, as a trusted statesman and an educator. In 1998, at the age of 77, he became the oldest human to venture into space as a crew member on the Discovery space shuttle -- once again advancing our understanding of living and working in space.  

"He earned many honors for both his military and public service achievements. In 2012, President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor the country can bestow, and he also received the Congressional Gold Medal.

"Glenn's extraordinary courage, intellect, patriotism and humanity were the hallmarks of a life of greatness. His missions have helped make possible everything our space program has since achieved and the human missions to an asteroid and Mars that we are striving toward now.

"With all his accomplishments, he was always focused on the young people of today, who would soon lead the world. ‘The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds and advance the kind of science, math and technology education that will help youngsters take us to the next phase of space travel,’ he said. ‘To me, there is no greater calling … If I can inspire young people to dedicate themselves to the good of mankind, I've accomplished something.’

"Senator Glenn's legacy is one of risk and accomplishment, of history created and duty to country carried out under great pressure with the whole world watching. The entire NASA Family will be forever grateful for his outstanding service, commitment and friendship. Personally, I shall miss him greatly.  As a fellow Marine and aviator, he was a mentor, role model and, most importantly, a dear friend.  My prayers go out to his lovely and devoted wife, Annie, and the entire Glenn family at this time of their great loss."

Buzz Aldrin, the second astronaut to walk on the moon, issued a statement as well. Aldrin himself was hospitalized this week after being evacuated from Antarctica. He is recovering from having fluid in his lungs in New Zealand:

Kennedy Space Center director and former astronaut Robert Cabana also issued a statement:

“I had just turned 13 when I watched John Glenn become the first American to orbit the earth back in February of 1962.  John epitomized what it was to be a Marine, a pilot, and an astronaut, and he was one of my heroes.  

"After I was fortunate enough to become an astronaut myself, our paths crossed many times.  I so much enjoyed, and now treasure, the time I was able to spend with him discussing the early days of our space program, and the space program's importance to our country and our future.  

"More than a senator, or an astronaut, John defined himself as a Marine and a pilot.  He was very proud that he was able to pass his medical even when he turned 90, and he loved to talk about flying.  

"He was definitely in his element when he returned to the astronaut office in 1998, at the age 77, to train and fly on STS-95 aboard Discovery.  He had always wanted to fly in space again.  He was the consummate professional, a leader of the highest caliber, and a genuinely nice man.  

"I am so glad that I had the opportunity to get to know him and his lovely wife Annie.  John was truly one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known and he will be greatly missed.”

Here is a selection of tweeted tributes from other astronauts: