29 October 1998: Senator John Herschel Glenn, Jr., the first American to orbit the Earth, returned to space as a member of the Discovery STS-95 crew. At the age of 77, John Glenn was the oldest human to fly into space.
The STS-95 mission elapsed time was 8 days, 21 hours, 44 minutes, 2 seconds. Combined with Senator Glenn’s orbital flight of 20 February 1961 aboard the Mercury space vehicle, Friendship 7, his total space mission time is 9 days, 2 hours, 39 minutes, 49 seconds. He has completed 137 orbits of the Earth.
16 July 1957: At 6:04 a.m., Major John Herschel Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, took off from NAS Los Alamitos, on the coast of southern California, in a single-engine Vought F8U-1P Crusader, Bureau Number 144608. 3 hours, 23 minutes, 8.4 seconds later, he landed at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York. Over the 2,360 mile (3,798 kilometer) route, he averaged 725.25 miles per hour (1,167.18 kilometers per hour). This was the first supersonic transcontinental flight.
The purpose of “Project Bullet” was “. . . to test the sustained capability of the F8U at near maximum power over a long distance.” The Crusader’s average speed was faster than the muzzle velocity of a .45-caliber bullet, hence the project name.
Glenn’s aircraft was a photo-reconnaissance variant of the Navy’s F8U-1E carrier-based supersonic fighter. Rather than guns and missiles, it was equipped with six cameras that took panoramic images over the entire route. Though it carried more fuel than the fighter version, the Crusader still required three aerial refuelings to cover the distance. To rendezvous with the North American AJ-1 Savage air tankers, he had to slow and descend by deploying an air brake. After tanking, Glenn accelerated with afterburner and climbed back to 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). As fuel burned off, he gradually rose to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).
After the completion of the flight, Pratt & Whitney, the engine manufacturer, tore down the J57-P-4A turbojet for an engineering inspection. As a result, all previous power limitations were lifted.
Bu. No. 144608 continued in active service with the Navy and was flown in combat with VFP-63 during the Vietnam War. On 13 December 1972, while landing aboard USS Oriskany (CVA-34), the Crusader struck the ramp of the flight deck and damaged its landing gear. It slid across the deck, severed the arresting cables and went over the side. The pilot, Lieutenant T. B. Scott, ejected safely but the record-setting fighter was lost in the South China Sea.
John Glenn was the Navy/Marine Corps project officer for the Crusader. According to information recently discovered by The Museum of Flight, Glenn made his first flight in a Crusader when he flew the prototype XF8U-1, Bu. No. 138899, on 4 May 1956. According to Glenn’s logbook, he made two flights in the prototype on that date, totaling 2 hours of flight time. (Many thanks to Mike Martinez, a docent for the Museum, for providing this information.)
Soon after Project Bullet, John H. Glenn was selected for Project Mercury. On the third manned flight of the program, he became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. He was later elected a United States Senator from his home state of Ohio. At the age of 77, John Glenn flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-95, 29 October–7 November 1998, becoming the oldest person to fly in space.
The Chance Vought F8U-1P Crusader is a photographic reconnaissance variant of the F8U-1 air-superiority fighter. It is a single-place, single-engine turbojet-powered airplane designed to operate from the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers. The recon variant is 54 feet, 6.10 inches (16.614 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 8 inches (10.871 meters) and overall height (three-point position) of 15 feet, 9.1 inches (4.803 meters). With the wings folded for storage, the span is 22 feet, 6 inches (6.858 meters).
The swept wing is placed high on the fuselage and its angle of incidence is adjustable in flight. The wing has a total area of 375 square feet (34.84 square meters) and has a “dog tooth” leading edge, extending 1 foot, 0.7 inches (0.323 meters). The leading edges are swept aft to 47° (42° at ¼-chord), and there is 5° anhedral. The horizontal stabilator is placed lower than the wings. Its leading edge is swept aft to 50° and it has 3° 25′ dihedral.
The F8U-1P has an empty weight of 16,796 pounds (7,618.5 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 27,822 pounds (12,620 kilograms).
The F8U-1P is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney J57-P-4 engine. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). Its Normal (continuous) rating is 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons) at 5,780 r.p.m. The Military Power rating is 10,200 pounds (45.37 kilonewtons) at 6,100 r.p.m., and it can produce 16,000 pounds (71.17 kilonewtons) at 6,100 r.p.m. with afterburner. The J57-P-4 is 20 feet, 10 inches (6.35 meters) long, 3 feet, 5 inches (1.041 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,860 pounds (2,205 kilograms).
The F8U-1P has a maximum speed of 635 knots (741 miles per hour/1,176 kilometers/hour) at Sea Level, and 855 knots (984 miles per hour/1,583 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling is 41,600 feet (12,680 meters), and it has a combat ceiling of 51,800 feet (15,789 meters) with afterburner. The airplane’s combat range is 1,740 nautical miles (2,002 statute miles/3,222 kilometers) at 495 knots (570 miles per hour/917 kilometers per hour)and 42,350 feet (12,908 meters).
The F8U-1P carried no armament.
Chance Vought built 1,213 F8U Crusaders. 144 were the F8U-1P photo reconnaissance variant. They were retired from U.S. Navy service in 1982.
“The selection procedures for Project Mercury were directed by a NASA selection committee, consisting of Charles Donlan, a senior management engineer; Warren North, a test pilot engineer; Stanley White and William Argerson, flight surgeons; Allen Gamble and Robert Voas psychologists; and George Ruff and Edwin Levy, psychiatrists. The committee recognized that the unusual conditions associated with spaceflight are similar to those experienced by military test pilots. In January 1959, the committee received and screened 508 service records of a group of talented test pilots, from which 110 candidates were assembled. Less than one month later, through a variety of interviews and a battery of written tests, the NASA selection committee pared down this group to 32 candidates.
“Each candidate endured even more stringent physical, psychological, and mental examinations, including total body x-rays, pressure suit tests, cognitive exercises, and a series of unnerving interviews. Of the 32 candidates, 18 were recommended for Project Mercury without medical reservations. On April 1, 1959, Robert Gilruth, the head of the Space Task Group, and Donlan, North, and White selected the first American astronauts. The “Mercury Seven” were Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., John H. Glenn, Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Alan B. Shepard, Jr., and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton.”
—40th Anniversary of the Selection of the Mercury Seven http://history.nasa.gov/40thmerc7/intro.htm
20 February 1962: At 9:47:39 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, NASA’s Mercury-Atlas 6 lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the third launch of a manned Mercury spacecraft, and the first time that an Atlas rocket had been used.
Aboard the spacecraft was Lieutenant Colonel John Herschel Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, an experienced fighter pilot and test pilot.
In his post-flight mission report, Glenn wrote,
When the countdown reached zero, I could feel the engines start. The spacecraft shook, not violently but very solidly. There was no doubt when lift off occurred, When the Atlas was released there was an immediate gentle surge to let you know you were on your way.
—Results of the First United States Orbital Space Flight (NASA-TM-108606), Manned Spacecraft Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, at Page 120, Column 1
2 minutes, 9.6 seconds after liftoff, the booster engines cut of and were jettisoned. 23 seconds later, the escape tower, no longer needed, was also jettisoned. The Atlas sustainer engine continued to burn until T+00:05:01.4. The spacecraft had now reached 17,544 miles per hour (28,234 kilometers per hour) and was in an elliptical orbit around the Earth. At T+00:05:03.6 the Mercury spacecraft separated from the Atlas booster. During the climb to orbit, John Glenn experienced a maximum acceleration of 7.7 gs.
Glenn’s orbit had an apogee of 162.2 statute miles (261 kilometers) and perigee of 100 miles (161 kilometers). The orbit was inclined 32.54° relative to Earth’s orbital plane. Friendship 7 completed an orbit every 88 minutes, 29 seconds.
Analysis showed that the Atlas had placed Friendship 7 in orbit at a velocity with 7 feet per second (2.1 meters per second) less than nominal. However, computer analysis showed that the orbital trajectory was good enough for nearly 100 orbits.
During the 4 hour, 55 minute, 23 second flight, the Mercury capsule orbited the Earth three times. John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth 12 April 1961.)
After re-entry, the capsule parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, only six miles from the recovery ship, USS Noa (DD-841).
The Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. It was the 13th Mercury capsule built. Designed to carry one pilot, it could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by steam thrusters fueled by hydrogen peroxide. The Mercury was 7 feet, 2.83 inches (2.206 meters) long, not including its retro rocket pack. The spacecraft was generally conical, and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.885 meters). It weighed 2,700 pounds (1,224.7 kilograms) at launch.
The rocket, a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 109-D, was built by the Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle.
The LV-3B was 65 feet (19.812 meters) long from the base to the Mercury adapter section, and the tank section is 10 feet (3.038 meters) in diameter. The complete Mercury-Atlas orbital launch vehicle is 93 feet (28.436 meters) tall, including the escape tower. When ready for launch it weighed approximately 260,000 pounds (118,000 kilograms) and could place a 3,000 pound (1,360 kilogram) payload into low Earth orbit.
The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. Two Rocketdyne LR89-NA-5 engines and one LR105-NA-5 produced 341,140 pounds (1,517.466 kilonewtons) of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.
Friendship 7 is displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
John Glenn, one of the original seven astronauts selected by NASA for Project Mercury, was a personal hero of mine. As a young boy growing up in Southern California, less than three miles from Rocketdyne’s engine test stands in Santa Susana, I followed the progress of all the astronauts. I recall having a map pinned to my wall, showing the orbital path of Friendship 7 as Glenn made his historic three orbits of the Earth. All of the astronauts, and the X-15 test pilots at Edwards, were heroes to me, but for some reason, John Glenn was special.
John Herschel Glenn, Jr., was born at Cambridge, Ohio, 18 July 1921, the first of four children of John Herschel Glenn, a plumber, and Clara Teresa Sproat Glenn. The Glenn family resided in New Concorde, Ohio. Glenn attended New Concord High School, graduating in 1939, and then enrolled at Muskingum College, also in New Concord, where he majored in engineering. While in college, he learned to fly.
Soon after the United States entered World War II, John Glenn enlisted in the United States Navy as a Naval Aviation Cadet, 28 March 1942. He transferred to the Marine Corps while still in flight training, and after qualifying as a Naval Aviator, was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 16 March 1943.
On 6 April 1943, Lieutenant Glenn married Miss Anna Margaret Castor, also from New Concorde. They would have two children, Carolyn Ann Glenn and John David Glenn.
In October 1943, Glenn was promoted to First Lieutenant. Initially assigned as a transport pilot flying the Douglas R4D-1 Skytrain with Marine Utility Squadron 315 (VMJ-315) in the Pacific, he was transferred to Marine Fighter Squadron 155 (VMF-155). He flew 59 combat missions with the Chance Vought F4U Corsair in the Marshall Islands.
In 1945, Glenn was assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 218 (VMF-218), again flying an F4U-4 Corsair, patrolling China with the 1st Marine Division. Lieutenant Glenn was promoted to the rank of Captain in July 1945.
In 1946, Captain Glenn, was transferred from the USMCR to the regular Marine Corps, retaining his temporary rank. On 7 August 1947, the rank of Captain was made permanent.
Captain Glenn served as an advanced flight instructor at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, from June 1948 to December 1950. With the Korean War, Glenn was assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 311 (VMF-311), which flew the Grumman F9F-2 Panther.
Captain Glenn few 63 combat missions with VMF-311. He was promoted to the rank of Major, 28 June 1952. He served as an exchange officer with the U.S. Air Force, flying a North American Aviation F-86F Sabre with the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing at K-13, an air base at Suwon, Republic of Korea. In July 1953, Glenn shot down three enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 jet fighters.
Major Glenn trained at the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School at NATC Patuxent River, Maryland, in 1954, and from 1956 to 1959, was assigned to the Bureau of Aeronautics, Fighter Design Branch.
On 16 July 1957, Major Glenn flew a Chance Vought F8U-1P Crusader from NAS Los Alamitos, on the coast of southern California, to Floyd Bennet Field, Brooklyn, New York, in 3 hours, 23 minutes, 8.4 seconds, averaging 725.25 miles per hour (1,167.18 kilometers per hour). Thomas S. Gates, Jr., Secretary of the Navy, presented Major Glenn the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Major Glenn was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, 1 April 1959. He was selected as an Astronaut with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Project Mercury and joined the NASA Space Task group at the Langley Research Center. Lieutenant Colonel Glenn was the senior officer and the oldest member of “The Mercury 7.”
At 9:47:39 a.m., Eastern Standard Time (14:47:39 UTC), 20 February 1961, Mercury Atlas 6 lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the third launch of a manned Mercury spacecraft, and the first time that an Atlas rocket had been used.
Aboard the Mercury was John Glenn, making his first space flight. He had named the capsule Friendship 7. Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom had each made a suborbital flight, but Glenn was going into Earth orbit.
Each orbit took 88 minutes, 19 seconds. The spacecraft’s altitude ranged from 100 miles (161 kilometers) to 162.2 miles (261 kilometers).
During the 4 hour, 55 minute, 23 second flight, Friendship 7 orbited the Earth three times, and traveled 75,679 miles (121,794 kilometers). John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth 12 April 1961.)
After re-entry, the capsule parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, splashing down only six miles from the recovery ship, USS Noa (DD-841).
When the Space Task Group was moved to the Manned Spacecraft Center at Houston, Texas, in 1962, John Glenn was involved in the layout and design of spacecraft cockpits and function of controls. On 16 January 1964, John Glenn resigned from NASA. He was promoted to the rank of Colonel in October 1964, then he retired from the Marine Corps 1 January 1965, after 23 years of military service.
Glenn worked in private industry for several years before beginning a career in politics. In 1974, he was elected to the United States Senate, representing his home State of Ohio. He served in the United States Congress from 24 December 1974 to 3 January 1999.
John Glenn wasn’t finished with spaceflight, though. From 29 October to 7 November 1998, Senator Glenn served as a NASA Payload Specialist aboard Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) during Mission STS-95. At the age of 77 years, John Glenn was the oldest person to fly in space.
During his two space flights, John Glenn orbited the Earth 137 times. His total time in space is 10 days, 49 minutes, 25 seconds (240:49:25).
In late November 2016, Glenn was admitted to Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center at Columbus, Ohio. He died there, 8 December 2016, at the age of 95 years.
John Herschel Glenn, Jr., Naval Aviator, Fighter Pilot, Test Pilot, Record-setter, Astronaut. Colonel, United States Marine Corps. United States Senator. American Hero.