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Pioneering U.S. Astronaut John Glenn Dies At 95

John Glenn also became the world's oldest astronaut in 1998 when he returned to space at the age of 77.

John Glenn, a former U.S. astronaut who became the first American to orbit the earth and later served as a U.S. senator, has died at the age of 95.

Glenn, who in 1962 became the third U.S. astronaut in space and the first among them to get into orbit, died at the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, on December 8.

His death was announced by the John Glenn School of Public Affairs, the college that Glenn helped found at Ohio State University.

Glenn became a national hero when he made three laps around the earth in the Friendship 7 capsule on February 20, 1962.

It was a key moment in Washington's competition with the U.S.S.R. to explore space after Soviet cosmonaut Yury Gagarin became the first human to reach orbit the previous year.

U.S. President Barack Obama praised Glenn in a December 8 statement, saying he inspired "generations of scientists, engineers, and astronauts who will take us to Mars and beyond -- not just to visit, but to stay."

"The last of America's first astronauts has left us, but, propelled by their example, we know that our future here on Earth compels us to keep reaching for the heavens," Obama said.

In a statement on his homepage, former U.S. astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who was the second man to walk on the Moon, said he was "saddened" by Glenn's passing, describing him as a "space pioneer and world icon."

Glenn, who later served for more than two decades as a Democratic senator from Ohio, became the world's oldest astronaut when, at the age of 77, he returned to space in 1998 aboard the Discovery space shuttle.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa