In January 1998, officials at NASA announced plans for space shuttle
mission STS-95. One of the mission's objectives was to test the effects of
space travel on aging. According to NASA, the aging process and space flight
stimulate similar physiological responses. NASA hoped to gain important
information pertaining to bone and muscle loss, balance disorders, and sleep
disturbances. On board the shuttle, to act as human guinea pig for these
experiments, was U.S. space flight pioneer John Glenn. Glenn's participation in
the mission would make him, at 77 years of age, the oldest person ever in
space. Setting firsts in space was nothing new to Glenn. In 1962, he was the
first American to orbit the earth.
John Glenn was born in Cambridge, Ohio on July 18, 1921. He graduated from New
Concord High School (renamed John Glenn High School after his 1962 flight) and
went on to earn a degree in engineering from Muskingum College. In 1943, Glenn
enlisted in the Marine Corps. Having learned to fly at New Philadelphia
airfield, Glenn joined the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in 1942. During World
War II, Glenn flew 59 combat missions in the South Pacific. Glenn also saw
action in the Korean War, flying 63 missions with Marine Fighter Squadrons 311
and 27 missions as an exchange pilot with the U.S. Air Force. Having flown a
total of 149 missions during World War II and the Korean War, Glenn received,
among other honors, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with 18
Following Korea, Glenn attended Test Pilot School at the Naval Air Test Center
in Maryland. After completing the program he was assigned as a test pilot on
Navy and Marine Corps fighter jets in Washington, D.C. In July 1957, he set a
transcontinental speed record, flying from Los Angeles to New York in 3 hours
and 23 minutes.
John Glenn was selected as one of seven men to be trained as America's first
astronauts in 1959. The process of selecting and training this elite corps of
men was chronicled in detail in Tom Wolfe's bestseller, "The Right Stuff."
Glenn described his two years of training to be an astronaut as consisting of
"a little of everything, " ranging from graduate-level courses in introductory
space science to scuba diving and simulator training.
Glenn's rigorous training paid off in 1962 when he made America's first orbital
flight on February 20. Glenn piloted the "Friendship 7" spacecraft on its
five-hour, three-orbit flight around the earth. Glenn "retired" from the Manned
Spacecraft Center on January 16, 1964, and would not enter space again for 36
As a civilian, Glenn pursued a career as an executive with Royal Crown
International from 1965 to 1974, when he was elected to the United States
Senate. He would go on to serve four terms as a Democratic senator from Ohio.
He made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984.
In the Spring of 1997, during an address at his college alma mater, Glenn
announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate. He maintained that he wanted to
remain active in the affairs of the nation and offered himself up for a mission
studying the relationship between space flights and aging. On October 29, 1998,
Glenn took his position onboard the space shuttle "Discovery" as payload
specialist. Nearly 250,000 people attended the blast-off at Cape Canaveral,
Florida, as John Glenn rode back into space and back into history.