The passing of John Glenn, one of America’s most famous NASA astronauts, marks the end of an era for American exceptionalism. While many will focus on the scientific miracle that allowed Glenn to become the first American to orbit the earth, Glenn himself noted that God was also an inseparable part of that miracle.
Glenn was admitted to Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center last week for treatment and passed away on Thursday, December 8. He was 95.
The native Ohioan made history as the first American to orbit the earth in 1962, went on to become a long-serving U.S. Senator from his home state, and made history once again by becoming the oldest human to go to space in 1998 at the age of 77.
“Love of country was a given. Defense of its ideals was an obligation,” Glenn wrote in 2000. “The opportunity to join in its quests and explorations was a challenge not only to fulfill a sacred duty but to join a joyous adventure.”
But Glenn said something else that may be overlooked as the nation reviews his life and times.
The Tweet from NASA announcing his passing hints at that something:
We are saddened by the loss of Sen. John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth. A true American hero. Godspeed, John Glenn. Ad astra. pic.twitter.com/89idi9r1NB
— NASA (@NASA) December 8, 2016
God speed, indeed, but God was also there all along, according to Glenn.
In the late 1990s Glenn, among other NASA astronauts lucky enough to go to space to touch the face of God, insisted that his religious faith was made stronger by his experience in space.
While in orbit for his second time at the age of 77, Glenn exclaimed that it is impossible not to believe in God after seeing the earth from thousands of miles above.
“To look up out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible,” Glenn said in 1998. “It just strengthens my faith.”
The famed astronaut, a devout Presbyterian, also noted that he was praying every day during his second historic flight in space.
So, as we remember the life and works of John Glenn, let us recall too his faith in a God that brought him such comfort, a God that created this awe inspiring universe full of wonder.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.