There are some glaring differences between the world of 1962 and 1998. For
one thing, in 1962 there were three billion fewer of us on the planet. In 1998, the population swelled and you could pick up a 400 MHz speed demon for a little over two
grand. By 2000, our planet is overflowing and 54 million American households have at least one computer.
But one thing hasn't changed between then and now. That's the small,
Marine Corps-trained satellite which spins above us, quite possibly as you
are reading this, trailing the words, "God Speed, John Glenn," just as it
did over 30 years ago.
John Herschel Glenn, Jr. was born on July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio. He
graduated from what is now known as John Glenn High School in nearby New
Concord. He joined the Marine Corps in 1943 and served in combat in the
South Pacific. Glenn again served combat duty in the Korean conflict.
After 149 missions in two wars, he received many honors, including the
Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with 18 clusters.
In 1959, John Glenn was selected to be one of the first seven astronauts in
the U.S. space program. Three years later on February 20, 1962, he made
history as the first
American to orbit the earth, completing three orbits in a five-hour flight,
for which he received the Space Congressional Medal of Honor.
After retiring from the Marine Corps in 1965, he took an active part in
politics and early environmental protection efforts in Ohio while pursuing a
career as an executive with Royal Crown International.
Glenn won his Ohio Senate seat in 1974 and was re-elected in 1980 with
the largest margin in Ohio history. He returned to the Senate for a third
term in 1986, again winning with a substantial majority. In 1992, John Glenn again
made history by being the first popularly elected Senator from Ohio to win
four consecutive terms.
Fast forward to 1997. A dispirited world whose heroes and public figures
repeatedly disappointed them thrilled to the announcement that John
Glenn would return to space. He was 77 years old! Back in 1962, Glenn rode in a rickety
sardine can called "Friendship 7," ostensibly, to see if America could spy on
the Communists from outer space. In 1998, Senator Glenn was a passenger on the sleek, state-of-the-art Space Shuttle Discovery, which had 10 times the
windows and whose mission was to study the effects of space flight and weightlessness on the elderly.
So, maybe things haven't really changed. Okay, the "Red Threat" has gone the
way of the Portuguese empire and Bart Simpson has replaced "The Beav" as
America's favorite pre-adolescent. And maybe we live in cyberspace more than before.
But one thing remains the same. The Earth is a much better place due, in part, to the explorations of one of its finest citizens, Senator John H. Glenn.