An American Legend
Marine Colonel John Glenn donned his space suit, preparing to launch into space with one mission: becoming the first American to go into orbit. He blasted off in in a ball of fire and a cloud of smoke, Feb. 20, 1962, aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft, circled the Earth three times and landed in the history books.
Born July 18, 1921, Glenn grew up in a small town in Ohio and took to flying at an early age. He graduated high school in 1939 and attended Muskingum College, studying engineering.
"I always had an interest in flying ever since I was a little kid. ... I always built model airplanes, the old balsa-wood type where you had to really carve them out with a razor blade and glue them together. ... I'd fly them, and they'd crash, and I'd repair them and fly them again," Glenn said in NASA oral history. "So I always had a lot of interest in aviation, but I never really thought in those days that I'd be able to fly myself, because flying was pretty expensive."
During college, Glenn was able to obtain his private pilot license, achieving a dream that he had always believed to be unobtainable.
"This was just prior to World War II, and the government had started a program called Civilian Pilot Training, CPT, and you could take flight training in little light planes. The one I learned to fly in was a ... 65-horsepower Taylorcraft with a Lycoming engine on it," Glenn said. "You got physics credit for it because you were studying engines and aerodynamics and heat transfer and metallurgy and all these things along with it."
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Glenn, who already had about 60 flight hours, volunteered for the Marines. After a year of flight training, he flew 59 missions in the Marshall Islands. Later, after the Korean War broke out in 1950, he volunteered to return to combat. During both wars, Glenn accumulated nearly 9,000 hours of flying time, about 3,000 of it in jets.
"I came back from World War II and decided I wanted to keep flying. I liked it, I loved it, and I was good at it. I won't be humble about that; I was good at it," said Glenn. "So I decided to stay in the Marine Corps as a fighter pilot. ... In the Korean War ... we were, once again, doing close-air support, this time with jets.