John Glenn, first American to orbit the Earth

John Herschel Glenn, the last of NASA’s original Mercury Seven astronauts — the first group of Americans to pilot manned spacecraft — died yesterday. He was 95 years old.

John Glenn in his Mercury pressure suit in preparation for launch of the Mercury Atlas 6 (MA-6) rocket. Photo: NASA

John Glenn in his Mercury pressure suit in preparation for launch of the Mercury Atlas 6 (MA-6) rocket. Photo: NASA

Glenn is perhaps most famous for being the first American to orbit the Earth, aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft in 1962. Later, at age 77 in 1998, he became the oldest person in space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.

A U.S. Marine combat pilot, test pilot, engineer, astronaut and four-term U.S. Senator, Glenn fought in both WW II and the Korean War. It was in that later conflict that he earned the nickname “magnet ass” from his apparent ability to attract enemy flak. Glenn also completed the first supersonic transcontinental flight in 1957.

Glenn was born July 18, 1921, at 4:00 pm in Cambridge, Ohio — putting his Sun in late Cancer. (Scroll down to see his chart.) Almost a Full Moon baby, his Moon is in mid-Capricorn; his ascendant is early in exploratory Sagittarius. Of note, Glenn also has hypothetical point Transpluto, asteroid Pallas, Mars, Mercury and Pluto all in Cancer.

One might not expect someone with a strong Cancer signature in their chart to be quite such a high-stakes risk taker. But as with real estate, one key to interpreting planetary placements is location, location, location:

All of those Cancer planets and points are in the 8th house of death, sex and transformation.

As Eric quipped in an email last night, “No wonder he was not afraid to sit on top of that untested Atlas rocket. He’s practically a shaman. Alive? Dead? Same difference.”

Len Wallick further suggested that Glenn’s natal Mars, in particular, speaks to his courage.

The Mercury astronauts were the subjects of Tom Wolfe’s famous novel The Right Stuff (and the popular movie of the same name), which shows the men to be the rather wild thrill-seekers that they were — despite NASA’s attempts in the 1950s and ‘60s to present them all as perfectly clean-cut, All-American boys.

In conversation, Eric mentioned, “Funny how Tom Wolfe portrays Glenn as a pious prude.” Yet, not only did he not die due to reckless behavior (cause of death has not been disclosed, but his health was declining, as one might expect at 95), he also has never been known for personal reckless behavior. His one “scandal” involved taking an ill-advised donation from Charles Keating while a Democratic Senator. Not only was he exonerated for that, he was still able to win reelection afterwards.

No doubt Glenn’s Cancerian influence and North Node in Libra contributed to his long and reportedly solid marriage to his high school sweetheart, Anna Margaret Castor, who survives as his widow. And while a Capricorn Moon can hide a deeply sexual side to a person, it might also indicate a great ability to compartmentalize. Glenn might not have been out getting into trouble the way his fellow Mercury Seven astronauts were, but as Eric noted further, “He worked the edge his way.”

As indicated by Jupiter and Saturn straggling his Virgo Midheaven, the ‘right stuff’ in John Glenn’s case may have been a precise, detail-oriented combination of expansion and discipline. If you’re going to burn hard and not burn up, apparently you need to know exactly where those limits are so you can dance along them into old age.

Natal chart for John Hirschel Glenn, Jr. View glyph key here.

Natal chart for John Hirschel Glenn, Jr. View glyph key here.

17 thoughts on “John Glenn, first American to orbit the Earth

  1. Eric Francis

    Nice piece, Amanda. Thank you.

    From where we sit in 2016, with the “space age” basically over (swallowed by the “cyber age”), it’s difficult to feel the potent charge around these people, and what they were doing. He was right there at the first peak. The space program was conflated with the Cold War. Wolfe describes it as single combat: one man representing the nation goes up against the other man representing his nation.

    I think that to understand his courage, you have to watch film of rockets failing. Going up 500 feet and tumbling down in a ball of flames. And the capsules really, truly looked like tin cans. However, he had the chance to be first. He had the courage to take that chance; and of course he knew that he would make history, and that’s appealing; it’s worth a risk, if that’s your thing.

    One thing that comes across in The Right Stuff, particularly the book, is the intensity of the test pilot program and why test pilots were used for the Mercury program. These were not ordinary men. They trusted the engineers, and were called to the sky and then to space like many, for all eternity, have been called to the ocean.

    Not sure how I feel about the astronauts being replaced by robots. It’s not the same but it’s just not that easy to get home from Pluto. Or Mars. There will be plenty of people willing to make the one-way trip when that time comes, however.

    By the way I found my NASA file today, rummaging through my PCB library. It was tucked between some binders. It’ a collection of significant first flights, and the things that went wrong: Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia. Not sure what to do with it, though would be happy to re-cast the carts and make the collection available.

    Trivia question: What sign was the Moon in, when “man walked on the Moon”?

  2. Geoff Marsh

    What a splendid photo of John Glenn. He looks every inch the superstar space stud. Keir Dullea must have been chosen for his role in 2001: A Space Odyssey because of his resemblance to Glenn. Odd to think 2016 is being book-ended by the departures of David Bowie and John Glenn – both major Toms in their tin cans far above the world.

    What a magnificent chart for the first Moon landing, too. Jupiter in almost exact conjunction with Uranus in the first degree of Libra. Knowledge is expanded magnificently through new space technologies giving mankind a first human contact in its relationship with the rest of the universe.

    Trivia question: Of the 12 astronauts to have walked on the Moon, only one was a Cancer. Which one is the only man to have set foot on his astrological ruler?

    1. Lizzy

      Yes – he looks like Steve McQueen in a spacesuit! Great article, Amanda. I listened to his story on the radio last night, absolutely fascinating – the whole historical context (the race to outdo the Russians who were sending people on the moon), and how Glenn kept a cool head and managed to avoid disaster when a glitch occurred on one of his voyages – and also how sexy the (silver, streamlined ) spacesuits used to be!

      1. Amanda Painter Post author

        Oh, for sure — the silver suits are awesome. There’s a hilarious shot on his WIki page of the Mercury Seven all lined up in their suits, but Glenn and another astronaut in the front row are wearing **spray-painted** work boots instead of the official space boots, according to the caption. I’m guessing that the boot manufacturer couldn’t get all seven pairs done in time for the photo shoot? Or maybe Glenn and the other guy forgot to bring theirs? It cracks me up each time I think about it.

  3. Eric Francis

    What I find so interesting is that Nasa sent up a bunch of ~40-year-olds. Lest you think you’re over the hill, the most mentally and physically demanding job in the world was given to them. I reckon that Nasa was looking for peak physical condition combined with mental maturity.

    1. Amanda Painter Post author

      Oh, absolutely! Gotta get men who are enough past adolescence, and who have some significant leadership experience in dangerous situations yet can also work as part of a team. Also, it sounds like the selection process was pretty grueling — a significant number who went through the first round of trials opted not to do the second round:

    1. Geoff Marsh

      Well done, Amanda. Both good shots. Hard to decide. Interesting to note it’s Gl-amour that wins out over Cosmic.

      Still think the headline makes it seems as if Glenn was the first, rather than the first American, to orbit the earth. Let’s not forget cosmo-brother Yuri Gagarin.

      1. Amanda Painter Post author

        Geoff — that’s the second time I made that omission regarding Glenn while I was working on this story. At least in the headline, I was more concerned about the title fitting on one line…. I promise it was not an intentional slight or raging American exceptionalism!

        As for ‘Glamour’ versus ‘Cosmic’: the loose PW photo spec for something like a bio or obit post is to choose a clear, aesthetically interesting photo of the subject. And while the “cosmic” shot has a great aesthetic, I wanted something that was clearer — yet not as stodgy as his “yearbook” photo as Senator.

        And after all, glamour was *definitely* part of the US space program’s early years. I stand by my choice — especially with Uranus currently in Aries.

  4. Geoff Marsh

    Well, as an Aquarian, I can hardly argue against Uranus in Aries, Amanda. As for headlines fitting space, I can well understand the limitations imposed on the writer.

    I’m pleased you appreciate my point, though. Let us not forget that it was communist Russia that made capitalist America so keen on establishing its dominant presence in space.

    1. Amanda Painter Post author

      heavyevvy — I can just imagine! For me in elementary school, it was the Space Shuttle launches that we watched (including the tragic Discovery launch in which New Hampshire schoolteacher Christa MacAuliffe and the rest of the crew perished — being in Maine, she was practically a local for us). They were always exciting; but I suspect that watching the first American launch to orbit Earth must have been exciting times ten.

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