Fact: Astronauts are the coolest. Proof: They’re trained pilots…and they’ve been to space. Amazing! Sadly, we’ve lost one of the first astronauts (he was one of the “Mercury 7”) and a true American hero in John Glenn.
Glenn is best known as the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, and fifth person in space overall. From inside the Friendship 7, Glenn circles the globe three times. On another mission, he orbited the planet an additional 134 times.
After Glenn returned to Earth, he decided to go into politics. Why? In part, it was because the extensive psychological testing he underwent to see if he was fit to be an astronaut determined that he’d make a good public servant. Also convincing him: He was friends with the Kennedy family. In 1962, Attorney General Robert Kennedy told him to run for a Senate seat from his home state of Ohio in 1964. Glenn gave NASA his retirement papers, declared his candidacy…and then hit his head on a bathtub. Glenn endured a concussion and an ear injury and he was unable to submit to the rigors of a campaign. In 1970, Glenn ran for that senate seat again…and lost in the primary. After declining an offer to run for lieutenant governor, Glenn ran for the senate seat again in 1974. This time he won.
Looking to make the jump from the Senate, Glenn announced a run for president in 1984. One of the best-known candidates running for the Democratic nomination, Glenn picked up just 3.5 percent of the vote in the Iowa primary (losing to former vice president Walter Mondale), and 12 percent in New Hampshire (losing to Colorado senator Gary Hart). He dropped out after that, which is too bad—had Glenn won the election he would’ve been the first person to ever occupy the Oval Office who’d also been to space. (He was also left with $3 million in campaign debt, which he steadily paid off for 20 years until the Federal Election Commission waived it.)
Astronaut Emeritus Glenn
Glenn declined to run for re-election to the senate in 1998 because he had bigger fish to fry: He was going back to space. In October 1998, he was onboard the Space Shuttle Discovery for a nine-day mission as a Payload Specialist. For the previous two years, Glenn had repeatedly asked NASA to let him be a “human guinea pig for geriatric studies.” In other words, he wanted NASA to explore the effects of space on an older person—he was 77 at the time of the flight, the oldest human ever to go into space.
Special Guest Star John Glenn
Here he is on a 2001 episode of the sitcom Frasier.