'John Glenn the Humanitarian' Remembered by NASA Chief (Video)

John Glenn and NASA Chief Charlie Bolden
John Glenn (left) with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at a NASA Future Forum in 2012. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

John Glenn was an outstanding aviator, astronaut and ambassador for the American space program, but he was an even better human being, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said.

"John Glenn the astronaut? Yeah — great. John Glenn the humanitarian, John Glenn the human being, John Glenn the husband, you know, the loving husband — that's what I'll remember forever," Bolden said in a NASA video tribute, choking back tears.

The NASA chief is one of many in the spaceflight community and beyond now mourning Glenn, who died yesterday (Dec. 8) at the age of 95. On Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn — one of the original seven astronauts chosen by NASA in 1959 — became the first American to orbit Earth, bringing the United States roughly level with the Soviet Union in the Cold War space race.

Glenn set another record in 1998 at the age of 77, becoming the oldest person ever to reach space, completing the feat as a crewmember on the space shuttle Discovery's STS-95 mission. He accomplished a great deal in other walks of life as well: Glenn was a highly decorated fighter pilot who flew many combat missions in World War II and the Korean War, for example, and he served for 25 years as a U.S. senator from his home state of Ohio.

And in 1998, Glenn helped establish the John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at The Ohio State University. (The institute is now known as the John Glenn College of Public Affairs.)

Indeed, service was a core part of Glenn's life, Bolden said.

"He embodied taking care of your people," the NASA chief said.

And at Ohio State, Glenn "adopted as his focus for life bringing young people in to have opportunities to get to do and see some of the things that he had seen, if they realize that science and math [are] critically important," Bolden said. "That's the John Glenn that I hope people will remember forever."

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.