We lost a hero this week. John Glenn passed away at the age of 95. The last of the original Mercury 7 NASA astronauts, Glenn could not have been more perfect for the role of the first American in space if he had been recruited from Central Casting in Hollywood.
He was raised in a small Ohio town, married his childhood sweetheart, was a combat pilot in two wars, and was movie star handsome. Although much of what we think about Glenn comes from The Right Stuff movie where he was portrayed by Ed Harris, those who knew the astronaut well testify that the portrait was accurate. Glenn was committed to his wife, his family, his country, and his mission. He was a man of faith and an ordained Presbyterian elder (PCUSA) who saw no conflict between scientific research and a Creator God.
I was a high school and college student when Glenn first came to prominence. As a child of the new “space age,” I was thrilled by the early NASA flights and the mission in 1962 when Glenn orbited the earth and almost died in the return. Through it all, he portrayed commitment, calm, and curiosity.
Glenn is hero to me and not just because of his exploits as a Mercury astronaut. He is a hero not just because of his four terms in the Senate where he was a steady and productive legislator. He is not just a hero because he returned to space on the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998 at age 77. Although dismissed by many as a political stunt, Glenn was diligent in his preparation and willing to undertake the risks involved. He was quoted as saying, “Just because I am 77 doesn’t mean I don’t have a dream.” He is not just a hero because he continued to pursue his love of flying until age 90 when he sold his plane.
Glenn is a hero to me because he always sought a new challenge—service to his country, space travel, politics, flying. He was more interested in his living than in his legacy. He never stopped trying. We need heroes like that.