The first American to orbit the earth, John Glenn embodies the spirit of a true aerospace pioneer. He met and overcame challenges throughout his career as a Marine aviator, test pilot, and NASA astronaut. He graduated from high school in New Concord, Ohio in 1939 and enrolled in Muskingum College. It was there that he began his aviation career, learning to fly in a Navy program for civilians at nearby New Philadelphia Airport. Already a licensed pilot when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program and earned his wings and commission in the USMC in March 1943. Glenn was first assigned to the Pacific Theater as a member of Marine Observation Squadron VMO-155, flying the F4U Corsair.
Participating in the Marshall Islands campaign, he completed 59 missions, during which he helped develop bombing tactics that were used to great advantage later in the war. He returned to the Pacific in 1947, where he served 2 years on North China patrol, and then flew with a Marine fighter squadron, VMF-218, from Guam. Reassigned next as a flight instructor to Corpus Christi, Texas, Glenn was anxious for combat duty. Sent to Korea in February 1953, Glenn flew 90 combat missions, first with VMF-311 and then as an exchange pilot with the USAF in the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. Patrolling "MiG Alley" in F-86 Sabres, he was credited with three aerial victories before the conflict ended. Next assigned to Navy Test Pilot School, he would soon enter the record books.
On 16 July 1957, in an F8U-1 Crusader, he completed the first nonstop supersonic transcontinental flight. His flight, dubbed "Operation Bullet," began over Los Angeles and ended over Floyd Bennett Field in New York--total time elapsed was 3 hours, 23 minutes, and 8.4 seconds. Eight days after promotion to lieutenant colonel on 1 April 1959, John Glenn was selected to be one of America's original seven astronauts. After almost 3 years training in NASA's exhaustive man-in-space program, he became the first American to orbit the earth. His flight blazed a trail that would lead to manned missions to the moon. Colonel Glenn retired from the Marine Corps and NASA in 1965, and, following a successful business career, successfully campaigned for a US Senate seat from Ohio in 1974.
On 20 February 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. After 10 postponed launches over a 2-month period, the space capsule, Friendship 7, was boosted into three full earth orbits and, with it, Astronaut Glenn had opened another door in the US space program. The flight of 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds more than accomplished its major objectives of investigating man's capabilities in space and testing the spacecraft supporting systems. The flight was not totally without incident--a switch in the heat shield circuit failed, indicating that the clamp holding the shield in place had been released prematurely. Precautions were taken during reentry and, upon inspection, the signal was found to have been false. President John F. Kennedy awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal to Glenn on 23 February 1962. He later became the third man to be presented astronaut wings.