Astronaut John Glenn, 1st American to orbit the Earth, dead at 95

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Former NASA astronaut John Glenn, who became the first American to orbit the Earth and went on to represent Ohio in the U.S. Senate for more than two decades, has died, officials say. He was 95 years old.

Glenn was hospitalized at the James Cancer Hospital at the Ohio State University more than a week ago, though details about his illness have not been made public and his hospitalization was not disclosed until Wednesday. Glenn died on Thursday.

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

NASA chose Glenn and six other men in 1959 to become the first group of American astronauts. The seven men would fly on the Mercury spacecraft, which led to the men being called the “Mercury Seven.”

In 1962, Glenn lifted off on board the “Friendship 7” spacecraft and became the first American to orbit the Earth, nearly a year after the Soviet Union achieved the same feat. Glenn spent about 5 hours in space during which he made three orbits around Earth.

Glenn became an instant celebrity and, after leaving NASA, was elected to the U.S. Senate to represent his home state of Ohio. He was a senator for 25 years, from 1974 through 1999, during which he also served as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs.

In 1998, as he prepared to retire from the U.S. Senate, Glenn got to fly to space again. He flew with six other astronauts on board the Space Shuttle Discovery, some 36 years after his first spaceflight. At the age of 77, he also became the oldest person to fly in space.

“When John Glenn blasted off from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas rocket in 1962, he lifted the hopes of a nation,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement. “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.”

Obama added: “With John’s passing, our nation has lost an icon and Michelle and I have lost a friend. … 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.”

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