Biography of American Astronauts: John Glenn

About the United States astronaut John Glenn, history of the NASA space program and biography of the first man to orbit earth.

An Earthy Look at the American Astronauts

John Glenn. John Glenn, the 1st American to orbit the earth, was probably the country's most popular astronaut. He had the image of being a nonsmoker and a nondrinker. The public was told that he didn't swear, and that he went to church every Sunday. All that might be true, but he also gave NASA its share of problems.

As Glenn was about to soar into space, NASA administrator James Webb learned that Glenn had arranged to have a Life writer and photographer at his home with his family. According to Robert Sherrod in the Columbia Journalism Review, Webb was incensed for 2 reasons: "1. Vice-President Johnson was planning to call on Mrs. Glenn during the flight and would want privacy; and 2. suppose something 'unforeseeable' happened to Glenn and Life published photographs of the Glenn family in its agony . . . . Webb demanded that Glenn explain. Equally incensed, Glenn replied that the Life men were personal friends and they had a right to be in his home." Webb lodged a direct complaint with Life, but to no avail.

After his flight, Glenn was a national hero. He vacationed with President Kennedy, and attended untold parties. But his social activities earned the wrath of some of his fellow astronauts, leading Wally Schirra to say in a TV interview that Glenn's outside interests had about eliminated him from the space program. Glenn later replied in Esquire, "I'm sure that there were some jealousies, but they were not expressed as such. When one guy out of a group gets all that attention, when you've worked closely together and all that, I'm sure there are some feelings back and forth."

Glenn has recently been a member of the R. C. Cola board of directors, and he owns several motels. He has made 3 attempts to get a U.S. Senate Democratic nomination in Ohio, finally winning it in 1974. He went on to win a landslide victory in the final election. Earlier, in his unsuccessful Senate bid in 1970, New York advertising executive Barry Nova was hired as Glenn's "image maker." Later, in an article in New York, Nova analyzed the reasons for Glenn's defeat: "John Glenn was a great astronaut and a valid national hero. He was also shallow, pedantic, and egocentric. To this day, I don't know what he stands for; neither do the people of Ohio."

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