'I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth and beheld the face of God.'
SUMMARY: Former astronaut and senator John Glenn has died at age 95. In every chapter of his life, whether on Earth or above it, Glenn accumulated achievements -- serving as a Marine fighter pilot in two wars and later launching into space exploration. After retiring from politics, he continued to advocate for NASA. Hari Sreenivasan speaks with science correspondent Miles O'Brien about this American icon.
HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour): Finally tonight, remembering John Glenn, the Mercury astronaut and former U.S. Senator who died today at 95.
We start with this look back.
MAN: Godspeed, John Glenn.
HARI SREENIVASAN: February 20, 1962.
MAN: Nine, eight.
HARI SREENIVASAN: An Atlas rocket fired Friendship 7 into space. And over the next five hours, John Glenn's name was indelibly inscribed in history, the first American to orbit the Earth circling the globe three times.
JOHN GLENN: Zero g and I feel fine. Capsule is turning around. Oh, that view is tremendous.
MAN: The honorable John Glenn.
HARI SREENIVASAN: It was still fresh in his mind half-a-century later.
JOHN GLENN: For many, many thousands of years, people had looked up and wondered. They'd been curious about what was up there. Now, we must consider ourselves among the most fortunate of all generations, for we have lived at a time when the dream became a reality.
HARI SREENIVASAN: John Glenn's time began in Ohio, where he was born and raised. He grew up to be a highly decorated Marine fighter pilot in World War II and Korea. And, as a military test pilot, he set a transcontinental speed record in 1957.
Then, space beckoned. That same year, the Soviet Union stunned the world with Sputnik, the first manmade satellite. More Soviet successes followed, while initial U.S. unmanned launches met with repeated failure.
The Soviets also leaped ahead in manned flight with cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin making the first orbital flight ever in April 1961. Glenn was still training at that point. One of the first astronauts, the Mercury 7, he spoke of them at Cape Canaveral in 2012.
JOHN GLENN: That was a real team we put — it was put together back in those days. And while we were competitors, boy, were we competitors to try and get the different flights, never was there anything anymore tight than the brotherhood we had that supported each one of those flights.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Glenn's moment came in early 1962, when he crammed his silver-suited frame into the tiny Friendship 7 capsule.
JOHN GLENN: We used to joke about the spacecraft. We said, you didn't climb — you didn't get into it, you actually put it on. It was more like putting on clothes. It was that small, because the whole thing, if you spread your arms out like that, the — you were touching both sides of the spacecraft.