It looks like 2016's unquenchable thirst for the blood of great people has struck again, as the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn, has died at the age of 95.
Glenn is widely considered and American hero. He was a fighter pilot, astronaut, senator, and even completed the first supersonic transcontinental flight. Glenn was the last survivor of the original seven American Mercury astronauts.
Glenn is best known for his career as an astronaut, notably because his mission in the third manned Mercury capsule, Friendship 7, was the first time an American orbited the Earth. He only flew in space twice, but the gap between his first and second mission, as a payload specialist on the Space Shuttle Discovery, was 36 years, by far longer than any other astronaut.
Glenn was determined by NASA to be the astronaut “best suited to public life,” and he proved them right by becoming the Democratic senator from Ohio from 1974 to 1999. He attempted to get the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984, but was defeated by Walter Mondale, who has never been to space even once, and of course lost the election.
Earlier this year, Glenn was featured in an Audi commercial that referenced his early days as a Mercury astronaut:
A few less-known John Glenn facts are worth noting: he earned the nickname “magnet ass” during his time as a fighter pilot in the Korean War due to his ability to attract enemy flak. Also, while in space, Glenn became the first American astronaut to report seeing any sort of UFO, specifically the ‘fireflies’ that he saw out the Mercury’s window.
Here’s how he described them to NASA’s mission control:
This is Friendship Seven. I’ll try to describe what I’m in here. I am in a big mass of some very small particles, that are brilliantly lit up like they’re luminescent. I never saw anything like it. They round a little; they’re coming by the capsule, and they look like little stars. A whole shower of them coming by.
They swirl around the capsule and go in front of the window and they’re all brilliantly lighted. They probably average maybe 7 or 8 feet apart, but I can see them all down below me, also.
Glenn was 95, so his death isn’t exactly shocking. Even so, Glenn was truly an American hero, and he’ll absolutely be missed.