The sky is blue and the whole Cape holds its breath. Fully suited and heart racing, John Glenn climbs aboard the Friendship 7. The clock ticks by as NASA engineers make last minute repairs to the Atlas launch vehicle. Propulsion fires, exhaust plumes onto the launch pad, and up, up into that clear February sky, Glenn becomes the first American in orbit, and to many, a hero.
On February 20th, 1962, the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission put astronaut John Glenn into full orbit. Sixty years later, we celebrate this achievement by sharing materials from the John and Annie Glenn collection on Ohio Memory!
John Herschel Glenn Jr., better known simply as John Glenn, was born in Cambridge, Ohio, in 1921 and raised in New Concord, Ohio, where he met Annie Castor as a child. The two were childhood friends, high school sweethearts, and until John’s death in 2016, steadfast spouses. The two married on April 6, 1943. At the time, John was a U.S. Marine aviator, and would later serve as a test pilot at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, where he trained to enter the brand new Mercury program at NASA.
Glenn’s homecoming after the successful Friendship 7 flight was marked by a ticker-tape parade and a parade in his hometown, New Concord. NASA also ran a goodwill tour to Japan, in which John and Annie were popularly received. He then moved into public life with campaigns for the U.S. Senate. Friends with the famous Kennedy family, especially Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, Glenn ran two unsuccessful Senate campaigns in 1964 and 1970 and then won the seat in 1970, which he kept for 25 years. Several of the photographs from the John and Annie Glenn collection cover his political career from campaign crowds, televised events, meetings with presidents and official events. Glenn returned to orbit in 1998 at age 77 aboard the Discovery to help study the effects of aging in space. He also taught at the Ohio State University as an adjunct professor in the School of Public Policy and Management and the Department of Political Science that same year.
The collection also contains some whimsy. My personal favorite is this photo from the set of ER with fellow Discovery astronauts Steven Lindsey and Curtis Brown, and actors Anthony Edwards and George Clooney. After a little rabbit-hole research, apparently there’s an episode in season 5 where Edwards’ character, Mark Greene, is nominated for a NASA mission. Honorable mentions include John and Annie’s trip to Egypt, John’s 58th birthday party which was “disco skate themed,” a day at the Ohio State Fair, and this felt mouse toy that was apparently snuck aboard the Friendship 7 as part of a joke between him and Alan Shepard, another of the Mercury Seven astronauts.
There’s plenty to check out on Ohio Memory, but if you’re really looking for a way to commemorate Friendship 7 this month, why not visit the John and Annie Glenn Museum in New Concord, Ohio? Perhaps you’ll even spy some of the objects in person! Aim high, fellow readers! The sky is no longer the limit.
Thank you to Jen Cabiya, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!