John Glenn - First American to Orbit the Earth


John Glenn was one of NASA’s  first astronauts and the first American to orbit the Earth. He belonged to the “Mercury 7”, a group of astronauts that would be sent into orbit at the beginning of the Space Race.

Glenn was born in Ohio  in 1921.  In his early life he  was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps during World War II and the Korean War. After the war he attended classes at the University of Maryland where he got a degree  in chemistry.

Towards the end of the 1950s it had become clear that America was in fierce competition with the Soviet Union to send a man into space and bring him safely back to Earth. NASA chose 7 test pilots  who would become astronauts in the  Mercury program and John Glenn was one of them.

Although Alan Shepard  became the first American to reach space, John Glenn was the first to actually orbit the Earth.  His historic flight aboard “Friendship 7”  lasted 5 hours, in which Glenn orbited the Earth 3 times.  During the flight problems came up and Glenn had to fly the spacecraft manually. It finally splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean. Glenn had become a national hero and gave America confidence to beat the Soviets in space.

Because he was too old to be an astronaut for the moon landing at the end of the decade, John Glenn left NASA in 1964 and entered politics. After failing to become senator in his home state of Ohio he started a career in the business world, but still advised NASA in many fields. In 1974 Glenn finally became Democratic Senator in Ohio , where he remained until 1999.

In his political career Glenn fought against the spread of nuclear weapons. He also tried to help the car and steel industry which were in a deep crisis in the 1980s. As a Democrat Glenn strongly criticized Republican president Ronald Reagan  for his hardliner attitude towards the Soviet Union in the Cold War.



In 1998, 36 years after his historic flight, John Glenn  returned to space  on board the space shuttle Discovery.  At the age of 77 he was the oldest person to ever take part in a space mission. He carried out experiments that dealt with the physical problems of old age while in space.

John Glenn died on December 8, 2016 , at the age of 95



Related Topics




  • advise = to give your expert opinion on a certain topic
  • attitude = what you think about something
  • beat = win against
  • carry  out = to do something
  • competition = situation in which you try to be better than someone else
  • confidence = the feeling that you can believe in yourself and achieve something or do good work
  • decade = ten years
  • degree = a title you get when you successfully finish studies or a course at a university or college
  • fail = not succeed
  • fierce = strong ; with a lot of feeling and emotions
  • fighter pilot = pilot who flies in a war and attacks the enemy
  • hardliner = politician who wants to deal with problems in a strong and extreme way
  • manually = by hand ;  not automatically
  • Marine Corps = one of the parts of the American army in which soldiers serve on ships
  • mission = trip, journey
  • nuclear weapon = a bomb that splits atoms to create energy; it can destroy large areas and kill thousands of people quickly
  • orbit = go around
  • physical = about the body
  • politics = to be active in government or for a political party
  • reach = get to
  • remain = stay
  • Space Race = fight between the United States and the Soviet Union to become the first country in space and to reach the moon
  • splash down = land in the water
  • spread = here: to be used by more and more countries