COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — John Glenn made his historic spaceflight alone in 1962 but celebrated its 50th anniversary Monday among hundreds of people within his orbit, from fellow headline-making astronauts and NASA's administrator to family, friends and students at Ohio State University, where the public affairs school bears his name.
They watched footage of the launch, laughed at his enduring sense of humor and showered him with applause, praising the man who became the first American to orbit the Earth on Feb. 20, 1962.
Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, told the audience at the celebratory gala that Glenn was "no ordinary pilot." There was a need for leadership in the space program in the early 1960s, Armstrong said, and Glenn "literally rose to the occasion."
The former astronaut and U.S. senator from Ohio, now 90, circled the Earth three times in five hours and was viewed as a national hero for helping to lead the United States into space.
"I think the hero thing is in the eye of the beholder," Glenn said during a question-and-answer session with Annie, his wife of nearly seven decades. "I don't look at myself that way."
Asked about his heroes, Glenn said he admires different qualities in different people, such as the perseverance of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was severely injured in a shooting last year.
Her husband Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and commander of the space shuttle Endeavour's final mission, was the night's featured speaker and said he was honored to be sitting between two of his own heroes, Armstrong and Glenn. He brought the audience a message from Giffords: "Be passionate. Be courageous. Be strong. Be your best."
Glenn urged the audience to support research and education and shared the lessons he learned when he was among the top military test pilots presented in 1959 as the Mercury Seven. The only other surviving Mercury astronaut is Scott Carpenter, who called out the memorable line "Godspeed John Glenn" moments before the rocket ignited for Glenn's spaceflight.
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