John Glenn, a trailblazing astronaut who broke the glass ceiling twice by becoming the first American to orbit the Earth and the first senior citizen to venture into space, has died aged 95.
NASA tweeted immediately after his death was announced by the Ohio State University
We are saddened by the loss of Sen. John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth. A true American hero. Godspeed, John Glenn. Ad astra. pic.twitter.com/89idi9r1NB— NASA (@NASA) December 8, 2016
Glenn died yesterday at the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, where he was hospitalised for more than a week, the John Glenn College of Public Affairs announced. The former astronaut had been battling health issues after suffering a stroke a few years ago. He had also undergone a heart valve replacement surgery in 2014.
"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," President Barack Obama said in a statement.
Glenn, a decorated combat veteran and test pilot who gained worldwide fame as the first American to orbit the Earth, went on to become a US senator and in the autumn of his life returned to space aboard the shuttle Discovery. Glenn, who circled the earth three times, was the the third US astronaut in space. He was the first to get into orbit.
Glenn, who was known for his small-town decency and calm heroics, was the last of the original Mercury 7 astronauts who launched the US space programme. He later served for four terms as a Democratic senator from Ohio. On February 20, 1962, when Glenn rocketed into space, it was momentous and nerve-racking.
Space travel was in its infancy. Every launch and mission captivated the imagination of America. He made history a second time in 1998, when he returned to space decades later at the age of 77 only to become the oldest person sent into space. Glenn was a highly-decorated Marine who flew 59 combat missions in the South Pacific during World War II.
During the Korean War, he flew 90 combat missions, using different models of new jet fighters. In 1974, he was elected to represent Ohio in the US Senate. Two years later, Glenn's name was among the potential running mates for Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter, but the former US President ended up picking Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota.
He also campaigned in the Democratic primary for the 1984 presidential election, but ended up losing to Mondale. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honour, in 2012, by President Barack Obama.
Donald Trump also took to Twitter to mourn his death:
Today we lost a great pioneer of air and space in John Glenn. He was a hero and inspired generations of future explorers. He will be missed.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2016