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John Glenn, Former NASA Astronaut & Ohio Senator, Dead At Age 95

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) --  Former astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn has died in Ohio. He was 95.

Photos: Notable Deaths | John Glenn Through The Years

As CBS2's Dick Brennan explained, it might be hard for those who don't remember the space program to understand what John Glenn meant to the United States.

Glenn became a national hero in February 1962 when he became the first American to orbit the Earth.

Web Extra: 10 Fast Facts About John Glenn's Life

Hank Wilson with the John Glenn School of Public Affairs says Glenn died Thursday afternoon at the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus.

He was a hero in war and in space -- a patriot who inspired his country when it needed him most, at the dawn of the space age.

Glenn was the third U.S. astronaut in space and the first of them to get into orbit. He circled the Earth three times. The Soviet Union had put a man into orbit a year earlier in 1961. Glenn's mission helped the United States catch up in the space race.

Later, he became a man so gutsy that he got on another rocket and took off again, well past the age for old soldiers.

Glenn then spent 24 years as a Democrat from Ohio in the Senate and briefly made a run for president in 1984.

Glenn's political career took another hit in the late eighties when he got caught up in the savings and loan scandal. Glenn was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, but a Senate commission found he used 'poor judgement.'

He returned to space in 1998, at age 77, aboard space shuttle Discovery, becoming the oldest person ever in space. The purpose of his trip was to research the aging process.

"To help older people here on Earth escape some of the frailties of old age. That's the purpose of why I'm here," he said.

In 2012, President Obama awarded Glenn the Medal of Freedom.

"I had, I guess you could say, 47 years of federal service. I had 24 years in the Senate, 23 years in the Marine Corps and space program, and we're proud of this country and what it provides for people," he said of the honor.

Glenn was born in 1921 in Ohio. He became a Marine Corps aviator after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and would go on to fly nearly 150 missions during World War II and the Korean War.

Later he was picked to be one of the first seven astronauts in the U.S. space program -- the Mercury original seven.

The world watched as Glenn circled the globe three times in the Friendship 7 capsule. The flight transformed him into a national hero complete with a ticker tape parade.

"There's nothing like a ticker tape parade in New York City, and being right in the middle of it -- it's a wonderful experience and there was such an outpouring of emotion that day," he later said.

Glenn's other great love -- besides space -- was his wife Annie, the childhood sweethearts were married for more than 60 years and had two children.

In his 90s Glenn was still a passionate advocate for space travel, and he was optimistic about the future, expecting man to one day go to Mars and beyond.

He was the last survivor of the original Mercury 7 astronauts.

CBS2's Brennan recalled meeting Glenn at the 2004 Democratic Convention. After telling him how excited he was to meet an American hero, Glenn replied, "No, I'm just an old Senator."

Ohio State University President Michael V. Drake issued the following statement upon the passing of John Glenn:

"The Ohio State University community deeply mourns the loss of John Glenn, Ohio's consummate public servant and a true American hero. He leaves an undiminished legacy as one of the great people of our time. Senator Glenn was a decorated U.S. Marine aviator, legendary NASA astronaut, tireless public servant, and an unparalleled supporter of The John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State, where he served actively as an adjunct professor until just recently. He was an authentic hero whose courage, integrity, sacrifice and achievements inspired people, young and old, around the world. Most importantly, he was a loving husband, father and grandfather. He and his wife, Annie, have been the definition of model citizens. Meeting them was among life's greatest privileges. Spending time with them was a blessing. On behalf of the Ohio State community, I extend my heartfelt condolences to Annie and the entire Glenn family."

Details about arrangements and an on-campus remembrance service are forthcoming.

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