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John Glenn
John Glenn orbited the planet in 1962 and flew on the space shuttle in 1998. (NASA Photo)

Godspeed, John Glenn.

The first American to go into orbit, and the first astronaut to become a senator and presidential candidate, died today in Ohio at the age of 95.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that Glenn was surrounded by family, including his wife Annie, at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center when he died.

President Barack Obama said that with Glenn’s passing, “our nation has lost an icon, and Michelle and I have lost a friend.”

“John always had the right stuff, inspiring generations of scientists, engineers and astronauts who will take us to Mars and beyond — not just to visit, but to stay,” Obama said in a statement.

Glenn made history as one of NASA’s original Mercury 7 on Feb. 20, 1962, when he circled the planet three times. That mission followed up on Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin’s first-ever orbital flight in 1961 and two U.S. suborbital spaceflights, setting the stage for America to get into the race to the moon in earnest.

Glenn’s mission was memorable not only for its technical achievements, but also for its cultural impact. An estimated 100 million television viewers watched as his Mercury-Atlas rocket rose from the pad and fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter, stationed at Mission Control for the flight, said “Godspeed, John Glenn.”

Minutes after blastoff, Glenn marveled at the experience. “Zero-G and I feel fine. … Oh, that view is tremendous!” he said.

Glenn’s orbital mission, and the drama that unfolded when mission controllers weren’t sure whether Glenn could come home safely, have become central pieces of space lore in books and films ranging from “The Right Stuff” to the soon-to-be-released movie “Hidden Figures.”

The flight confirmed Glenn, a straight-arrow Marine veteran who flew combat missions during World War II and the Korean War, as an American hero for the Space Age. But he was judged too important as a space icon to fly again during the glory days of the moon race. Instead, he went into politics and represented Ohio, his native state, as a U.S. senator from 1974 to 1999.

He ran for president in 1984 but lost the Democratic nomination to Walter Mondale.

In the waning days of his Senate career, Glenn was chosen to fly on the space shuttle as part of a study on the effects of aging and the parallels to spaceflight. His selection served in part as an act of gratitude from NASA.

“I felt America owed John Glenn a second flight,” said Dan Goldin, who was NASA’s administrator at the time.

When Glenn launched on the shuttle Discovery in 1998 at the age of 77, he became the oldest human ever to go into space.

Since leaving the Senate, Glenn has served as a sage on public policy and the space effort. He lobbied NASA to keep the space shuttle fleet flying, and bemoaned its retirement in 2011.

“Why terminate a perfectly good system that has been made more safe and reliable through its many years of development?” Glenn asked.

For virtually all of his life, Glenn enjoyed unusually good health, even into his 90s. But this week, word emerged that he was being hospitalized, signaling that the end was near. The cause of death was not reported immediately.

Glenn was the last of the Mercury 7 astronauts to pass away, marking the end of an era. And the tributes that spread via Twitter reflected that fact:

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