Year
1998

John Glenn returns to space

Nearly four decades after he became the first American to orbit the Earth, Senator John Hershel Glenn, Jr., is launched into space again as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery. At 77 years of age, Glenn was the oldest human ever to travel in space. During the nine-day mission, he served as part of a NASA study on health problems associated with aging.

Glenn, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, was among the seven men chosen by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1959 to become America’s first astronauts. A decorated pilot, he had flown nearly 150 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War. In 1957, he made the first nonstop supersonic flight across the United States, flying from Los Angeles to New York in three hours and 23 minutes.

In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space, and his spacecraft, Vostok 1, made a full orbit before returning to Earth. Less than one month later, American Alan B. Shepard, Jr., became the first American in space when his Freedom 7 spacecraft was launched on a suborbital flight. American “Gus” Grissom made another suborbital flight in July, and in August Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov spent more than 25 hours in space aboard Vostok 2, making 17 orbits. As a technological power, the United States was looking very much second-rate compared with its Cold War adversary. If the Americans wanted to dispel this notion, they needed a multi-orbital flight before another Soviet space advance arrived.

On February 20, 1962, NASA and Colonel John Glenn accomplished this feat with the flight of Friendship 7, a spacecraft that made three orbits of the Earth in five hours. Glenn was hailed as a national hero, and on February 23 President John F. Kennedy visited him at Cape Canaveral. Glenn later addressed Congress and was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

Out of a reluctance to risk the life of an astronaut as popular as Glenn, NASA essentially grounded the “Clean Marine” in the years after his historic flight. Frustrated with this uncharacteristic lack of activity, Glenn turned to politics and in 1964 announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Ohio and formally left NASA. Later that year, however, he withdrew his Senate bid after seriously injuring his inner ear in a fall from a horse. In 1970, following a stint as a Royal Crown Cola executive, he ran for the Senate again but lost the Democratic nomination to Howard Metzenbaum. Four years later, he defeated Metzenbaum, won the general election, and went on to win reelection three times. In 1984, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for president.

In 1998, Glenn attracted considerable media attention when he returned to space aboard the space shuttle Discovery. In 1999, he retired from his U.S. Senate seat after four consecutive terms in office, a record for the state of Ohio.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Stock market crashes

Black Tuesday hits Wall Street as investors trade 16,410,030 shares on the New York Stock Exchange in a single day. Billions of dollars were lost, wiping out thousands of investors, and stock tickers ran hours behind because the machinery could not handle the tremendous volume of ...read more

U.S. troop strength reaches five-year low

The total number of U.S. troops remaining in Vietnam drops to 196,700–the lowest level since January 1966. This was a result of the Vietnamization program announced by President Richard Nixon at the June 1969 Midway Conference. U.S. troops were to be withdrawn as the South ...read more

Bobby Seale gagged during his trial

Judge orders “Chicago Eight” defendant Bobby Seale gagged and chained to his chair during his trial.Seale and his seven fellow defendants (David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Thomas Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Lee Weiner, and John Froines) had been charged with conspiracy to ...read more

Sandy Saddler beats Willie Pep for the first time

On October 29, 1948, featherweight boxers Sandy Saddler and Willie Pep meet for the first time in the ring at Madison Square Garden. Saddler, a strong puncher, knocked out the diminutive Pep in the fourth round. The two fought four times in all—Saddler won three—and the matchups ...read more

McKinley assassin is executed

On this day in 1901, President William McKinley’s assassin, Leon Czolgosz, is executed in the electric chair at Auburn Prison in New York. Czolgosz had shot McKinley on September 6, 1901; the president succumbed to his wounds eight days later.McKinley was shaking hands in a long ...read more

James Boswell is born

James Boswell is born on this day in Edinburgh to an ancient Scottish family. His father was a judge, the Lord of Auchinleck, and Boswell was heir to the title and a large fortune. He studied at the University of Edinburgh but ran away to London and was brought back by his ...read more

Richard Dreyfuss born

On this day in 1947, the actor Richard Dreyfuss, who will rise to fame in Hollywood in the 1970s with starring roles in such movies as American Graffiti, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Goodbye Girl, is born in Brooklyn, New York.Dreyfuss, who registered as a ...read more

Killer smog claims elderly victims

Killer smog continues to hover over Donora, Pennsylvania, on this day in 1948. Over a five-day period, the smog killed about 20 people and made thousands more seriously ill.Donora was a town of 14,000 people on the Monongahela River in a valley surrounded by hills. The town was ...read more

Israel invades Egypt; Suez Crisis begins

Israeli armed forces push into Egypt toward the Suez Canal, initiating the Suez Crisis. They would soon be joined by French and British forces, creating a serious Cold War problem in the Middle East.The catalyst for the joint Israeli-British-French attack on Egypt was the ...read more

Sir Walter Raleigh executed

Sir Walter Raleigh, English adventurer, writer, and favorite courtier of Queen Elizabeth I, is beheaded in London, under a sentence brought against him 15 years earlier for conspiracy against King James I.During Elizabeth’s reign, Raleighorganized three major expeditions to ...read more