John Glenn, a freckle-faced son of Ohio who was hailed as a national hero and a symbol of the space age as the first American to orbit Earth, then became a national political figure for 24 years in the Senate, died on Thursday in Columbus, Ohio. He was 95.
Ohio State University announced his death. Mr. Glenn had recently been hospitalized at the university at the James Cancer Center, though Ohio State officials said at the time that admission there did not necessarily mean he had cancer. He had heart-valve replacement surgery in 2014 and a stroke around that time.
He had kept an office at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, which he helped found, and also had a home in Columbus.
In just five hours on Feb. 20, 1962, Mr. Glenn joined a select roster of Americans whose feats have seized the country’s imagination and come to embody a moment in its history, figures like Lewis and Clark, the Wright brothers and Charles Lindbergh.
To the America of the 1960s, Mr. Glenn was a clean-cut, good-natured, well-grounded Midwesterner, raised in Presbyterian rectitude, nurtured in patriotism and tested in war, who stepped forward to risk the unknown and succeeded spectacularly, lifting his country’s morale and restoring its self-confidence.
It was an anxious nation that watched and listened that February morning, as Mr. Glenn, 40 years old, a Marine Corps test pilot and one of the seven original American astronauts, climbed into Friendship 7, the tiny Mercury capsule atop an Atlas rocket rising from the concrete flats of Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The Cold War had long stoked fears of nuclear destruction, and the Russians seemed to be winning the contest with their unsettling ascent into outer space. Two Russians, Yuri A. Gagarin and Gherman S. Titov, had already orbited Earth the year before, overshadowing the feats of two Americans, Alan B. Shepard and Virgil I. Grissom, who had been launched only to the fringes of space.
What, people asked with rising urgency, had happened to the United States’ vaunted technology and can-do spirit?