Godspeed, John Glenn

Friday, December 9, 2016

John Glenn was an inspiration to the generation of Baby Boomers now moving into their retirement years, from his initial exploits as America's first astronaut in orbit, to his political career in the U.S. Senate, to his return to orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery at the age of 77.

Only one of a group of aviation heroes coming from Ohio -- the Wright Brothers and Neil Armstrong among the others -- Glenn caught our attention with his four-hour, 55 minute flight on Feb. 20, 1962.

Tom Wolfe's "Right Stuff" was apparent in Glenn long before that, however, after he joined the Naval Air Corps and then the Marines flying 59 missions in World War II and earning the moniker "Mig Mad Marine" later in Korea.

He set a transcontinental airspeed record by flying an F8 from Los Angeles to New York City at an average speed of 725 mph in 1957.

That earned him a ticker tape parade that was repeated after his flight aboard Friendship 7.

He pulled out of his U.S. Senate race after suffering a concussion in a bathtub fall in 1964, was defeated in the 1970 primary, but won a senate seat in 1974 after becoming a multimillionaire through successful investments.

While there, he championed the B-1 bomber and was cleared of wrongdoing in the 1980 savings and loan scandal, although he was said to have "exercised poor judgment."

Banned from spaceflight by President Kennedy after his first flight, Glenn talked his way back into a space shuttle flight in 1998 by pitching it as a way to study the affects of spaceflight on aging bodies.

"Zero-G and I feel fine," was his first famous quote, repeated several times during his 1962 flight.

But wisdom and insight are more apparent in other:

"We are placed here with certain talents and capabilities. It is up to each of us to use those talents and capabilities as best you can. If you do that, I think there is a power greater than any of us that will place the opportunities in our way, and if we use our talents properly, we will be living the kind of life we should live." -- At NASA news conference in 1959 to introduce the Mercury 7 astronauts.

"Don't tune out, cop out or drop out. Don't give in to complacency and cynicism. Don't ignore what is bad, but concentrate on building what is good. Don't take America and the values reflected in our form of government for granted. And never forget that in our democracy, the government is not 'them' -- it is 'us.'" -- Announcing his retirement from the U.S. Senate in 1997.

"To look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is to me impossible." -- On his second flight on space shuttle Discovery in 1998 at the age of 77.

"We are more fulfilled when we are involved in something bigger than ourselves." -- Keynote address at Ohio State University's commencement in 2009.

Perhaps the most appropriate quote at this time was one Glenn never actually heard during his first launch, one uttered by fellow Mercury 7 astronaut Scott Carpenter:

"Godspeed, John Glenn."

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