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American space legend John Glenn dead at 95
By Tim Clary, with Kerry Sheridan in Miami
Columbus (AFP) Dec 8, 2016

All 'Original Seven' American astronauts now dead
Miami (AFP) Dec 8, 2016 - John Glenn's passing on Thursday means that the first seven American astronauts chosen to lead the fledging US space program in 1959 are now dead, ending a groundbreaking chapter in American history.

This crew of military aviators, known as the Original Seven, or "Mercury 7," proved that spaceflight was possible, and paved the way for the pioneering US trips to the moon.

- Alan B. Shepard, Jr. -

The first American to journey into space, Shepard launched on May 5, 1961, aboard the Freedom 7 spacecraft. His flight was suborbital, rising to an altitude of 116 statute miles (186 kilometers) before landing back on Earth.

He later commanded the Apollo 14 in 1971 -- the third lunar landing -- and became the fifth person to walk on the Moon.

Shepard died in 1998 at the age of 74 from leukemia.

- John H. Glenn, Jr. -

The first American to orbit the Earth, Glenn is best known for making his three tours around the planet on February 20, 1962.

He was also elected US senator in Ohio and served as a lawmaker from 1974 to 1999.

In 1998, at the age of 77, Glenn became the oldest person to fly in space when he journeyed aboard the space shuttle Discovery.

Glenn died Thursday at the age of 95. He had been in declining health since undergoing heart valve surgery in 2014.

- Virgil I. 'Gus' Grissom -

Grissom was the first person to be launched into space twice.

He flew on the second suborbital Mercury flight in 1961, and in 1965 piloted the first Gemini mission, which was also the first spaceflight to change its orbital plane.

He and two others were killed in 1967 in a fire during a launch pad test ahead of the planned Apollo 1 mission, which he was slated to command.

- Scott Carpenter -

Carpenter radioed the now famous phrase, "Godspeed, John Glenn" as his colleague was about to embark on the first US orbital flight in 1962.

Later that year, Carpenter became the second American to orbit the Earth.

After circling the Earth three times in the Aurora 7 capsule, he overshot his landing target by about 250 miles (400 kilometers).

Carpenter took a leave of absence from NASA and served as an aquanaut in the Navy's Man-in-the-Sea program in 1965.

He died in 2013 at the age of 88 after suffering a stroke.

- L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. -

In 1963, Cooper flew on the final Mercury mission and became the last US astronaut to fly alone in space.

His Faith 7 capsule circled the Earth 22 times and the mission lasted more than a day.

His second trip to space -- aboard Gemini 5 in 1965 -- lasted eight days and set a new space endurance record for that era.

Cooper was said to be the first American to sleep in space. He reported having no dreams during his orbital slumber.

He died in 2004 of heart failure at the age of 77.

- Walter M. Schirra, Jr. -

Schirra became the first man to fly aboard all three of the United States' first three human space projects -- the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions.

He was command pilot on Gemini 6 in 1965 when he led the first spacecraft rendezvous by flying within one foot of the already orbiting Gemini 7.

Schirra died of a heart attack while being treated for abdominal cancer in 2007 at the age of 84.

- Donald K. 'Deke' Slayton. -

Slayton was chosen to be part of the original Mercury missions but was unable to fly in 1962 because of an erratic heart rate.

He became NASA's director of Flight Crew Operations, and was eventually cleared for spaceflight a decade later.

In 1975, he flew aboard the first joint American-Soviet space mission, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which marked the first docking of an American and Russian spacecraft in space.

Slayton died of a brain tumor in 1993, at the age of 69.

John Glenn, who made history twice as the first American to orbit the Earth and the first senior citizen to venture into space, died Thursday at the age of 95.

Glenn became a symbol of strength and the nation's pioneering spirit, drawing admirers from all walks of life over a long career in the military, then NASA, and the US Senate.

He was chosen along with six other military pilots as part of the "Original Seven," the very first class of American astronauts in 1959 whose saga was recounted in the 1983 "The Right Stuff."

The US space agency NASA was among the first to pay tribute to the legendary astronaut who went on to serve as a lawmaker for more than two decades, calling him "a true American hero."

"Godspeed, John Glenn. Ad astra," NASA tweeted, echoing the famous words radioed by fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter before Glenn circled the Earth in 1962.

Glenn died at the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, according to Hank Wilson, a spokesman for the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. The cause of death was not immediately announced.

"With John's passing, our nation has lost an icon and Michelle and I have lost a friend," President Barack Obama said in a statement.

"When John Glenn blasted off from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas rocket in 1962, he lifted the hopes of a nation."

The one-time astronaut and veteran of two wars had been in declining health, undergoing heart-valve replacement surgery in 2014 and reportedly suffering a stroke, and was admitted to the cancer ward in Columbus more than a week ago.

"Though he soared deep into space and to the heights of Capitol Hill, his heart never strayed from his steadfast Ohio roots," said John Kasich, the governor of Glenn's midwestern home state, in one of the stream of tributes flooding in for the late legend.

President-elect Donald Trump, who happened to be in Columbus when Glenn's death was announced, paid his own tribute, saying: "To me he was a great American hero."

- Trailblazer -

The first man to orbit the Earth was Russia's Yuri Gargarin in 1961.

On February 20, 1962, Glenn became the first American to accomplish the same feat.

Glenn's flight lasted just under five hours and he circled the Earth three times, as part of NASA's Mercury project.

Thirty-six years later, on October 29, 1998, he made history again when he returned to space at the age of 77 -- becoming the oldest astronaut in space.

It was another shining moment in a career of trailblazing successes spanning decades.

Born July 18, 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio, Glenn joined the US Marine Corps in 1943, becoming a fighter pilot.

He served in the Pacific during World War II, and later in the Korean War, flying a total of 149 combat missions. According to his official biography, Glenn downed three fighter jets over the Yalu River in the final nine days of fighting in Korea.

In 1957 he made the first nonstop supersonic flight from Los Angeles to New York and became an astronaut two years later.

After his 23-year career in the US military and space program ended in 1965, Glenn entered the Senate as a Democrat. He made two unsuccessful tries for the presidential nomination, in 1984 and 1988.

While in the Senate Glenn was politically progressive, keeping a relatively low profile in Congress. He specialized in the fight against nuclear weapons proliferation and the disposal of nuclear waste.

He flew his own aircraft, a Beechcraft Baron, between the capital and his home state of Ohio, boasting about his record time of one hour, 36 minutes from Washington to Dayton.

- 'Grant us wisdom' -

Glenn also kept fit, making his return to space possible.

He regularly passed NASA physicals and pressed the space agency to consider the possibility of sending an older person -- such as himself -- into space for research, particularly on the effects of weightlessness on the elderly.

In November 2011, then 90 years old, Glenn was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, with three others, the first time the prize was awarded to astronauts.

"We came in peace for all mankind," he said after receiving the award, before repeating the words he spoke half a century earlier, addressing lawmakers upon returning from his orbital flight.

"As our knowledge of the universe in which we live increases, may God grant us the wisdom and guidance to use it wisely."

In 2012, Obama awarded Glenn the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor.

"The last of America's first astronauts has left us, but propelled by their example we know that our future here on Earth compels us to keep reaching for the heavens," the president said in his tribute to the late legend.

"John always had the right stuff, inspiring generations of scientists, engineers and astronauts who will take us to Mars and beyond -- not just to visit, but to stay," said Obama.

"On behalf of a grateful nation, Godspeed, John Glenn."

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