(GIZMODO) – John Glenn, an aviation legend and the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, died this afternoon at the age of 95.

Glenn passed away at a hospital in Columbus, Ohio, having been admitted more than a week ago, although the cause of his hospitalization is not yet apparent and was only reported yesterday. He lived a long life of remarkably good health, and died surrounded by his family.

Glenn was a highly-decorated marine who piloted nearly nearly 60 combat missions in the South Pacific during World War II, followed by another 90 during the Korean War. After the Korean War, Glenn remained in the military as a test pilot, flying supersonic aircraft and other state-of-the-art military models. On July 16th, 1957, he broke the transcontinental speed record, taking off from Los Alamitos Naval Air Station in California, and touching down 3 hours and 23 minutes later at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York.

At the height of the military arms race between the US and the Soviet Union, aviation records were a big deal. This one earned Glenn the accolade of being selected for Project Mercury, the United States’ first man-in-space program. A few years later, on February 20th, 1962, Glenn rocketed his way into the annals of spaceflight history, becoming the first American to orbit the Earth—three times, in just under five hours—inside a tiny Mercury capsule called Friendship 7.

Glenn was received back on Earth to perhaps more fanfare than any American astronaut since—crowds cheering, bands playing, invitations to the White House and Congress. Two Soviet cosmonauts had orbited the Earth the year prior, a fact which left many fearful that America was losing a race to dominate the biggest frontier yet to its biggest military rival. With Glenn’s brief off-Earth flight, America’s pride and self-confidence were restored.

Glenn left the astronaut program in 1964 to pursue a career in politics, later learning that NASA and President Kennedy had decided he was too precious to ever fly in space again. He would up serving four terms as a Democratic US senator from Ohio between 1974 and 1999, and even made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1984., losing the democratic primary nomination to Walter Mondale.

During his time in the senate, Glenn payed close attention to issues concerning NASA, technology, and national defense. He became an expert in weapons systems and nuclear proliferation, and was generally considered a measured voice of reason—a moderate most of the time, although his voting record became more liberal in his last two terms. His tenure as senator was remarkably scandal-free.

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