John Glenn: Astronaut, Politician and TBI Survivor

This past Saturday, December 17, was the memorial service for aviator, engineer, astronaut, and United States Senator from Ohio, John Glenn.  The first man to orbit the Earth, metaphorically left the world on December 8, 2016.  What many are not aware of, though, is that beyond his time in space, Glenn’s success in the U.S. Senate occurred after he had suffered a traumatic brain injury.

In the past, I have written about the issue of space travel and brain injury.  “On February 20, 1962, [Glenn] flew the Friendship 7 mission and became the first American to orbit the Earth and the fifth person in space.”  However, reports and profiles show that Glenn did not suffer any mental calamities during his time working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In 1964, however, Glenn started his political career, announcing his candidacy for Senator in his home state of Ohio.  Soon after, though, he withdrew his candidacy, as he was injured in a bathroom fall in his Ohio home.  Glenn’s hit to his head was not a mere bump because, as a biography on the Ohio State University website says, “The injury left him bedridden with severe vertigo and unable to campaign.”  Presumptively, vertigo was not the only issue the Glenn had after his fall, even ten years later New York Times referred to it as a “serious head injury”.  However, at the time, the media was not as intrusive as it is now, so even celebrities had some degree of privacy.*

Glenn devoted his life to government service.  Before his time at NASA, he served in the Marines in World War II and the Korean War.  After his time in space, and after his recovery from a TBI, he was a Senator for Ohio for 25 years.  As NASA writes in Glenn’s online biography, “John Glenn, became a national hero and a symbol of American ambition,” after he became the third American in space and the first to orbit the Earth.  The fact that he embarked on a successful political career following a traumatic brain injury makes Glenn an inspiration to the disabled population, too.

*For example, “in 1970, Glenn ran a campaign that relied on his celebrity and patriotic image to draw crowds to his stump speeches. He lost…”  As a personal note that you may disagree with, I ask:  Using celebrity, instead of substance, as the cornerstone of a campaign – who does that remind you of?  (In his later, successful campaigns, Glenn campaigned with celebrity AND substance.)

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