By Tiare Dunlap
Updated December 08, 2016 at 09:40 PM EST
Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

Pioneering astronaut and former U.S. Senator John Glenn has died at age 95.

Glenn died Thursday afternoon surrounded by family at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, reports The Columbus Dispatch.

“John Glenn is, and always will be, Ohio’s ultimate hometown hero, and his passing today is an occasion for all of us to grieve,” Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich said in a statement released on Twitter. “As we bow our heads and share our grief with his beloved wife, Annie, we must also turn to the skies, to salute his remarkable journeys and his long years of service to our state and nation.

“Though he soared deep into space and to the heights of Capitol Hill, his heart never strayed from his steadfast Ohio roots. Godspeed, John Glenn!”

Born on July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio, Glenn developed an early interest in science and flying thanks to a childhood spent surrounded by university students. His childhood home in New Concord doubled as a rooming house for students from nearby Muskingum College and Glenn credits the older students he knew, as well as his mother and father, with encouraging his interests.

While playing in the band at New Concord High School, he met Anna Margaret “Annie” Castor, who would become his wife of 73 years. Upon graduation, Glenn enrolled in Muskingum College to study engineering.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Glenn enlisted and became a Marine pilot who flew 59 combat missions in the South Pacific During World War II. Glenn returned to combat duty during the Korean War.

Following his service, Glenn became an expert flyer for the Naval Air Test Center where he set a speed record by flying from Los Angeles to New York in three hours and 23 minutes in 1957.

These accomplishments made Glenn an obvious choice for NASA’s space program, which selected him to join its first group of astronauts.

In 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. Glenn’s response to seeing the Earth 100 miles below him, “Oh, that view is tremendous!” became famous.

The spacecraft he named Friendship 7 made three orbits around the Earth and spent five hours in space. A mechanical problem caused his capsule to nearly burn on its descent but he escaped with his life and returned from his journey as an American hero.

After this historic flight, Glenn continued to serve as an advisor to NASA until 1964, when, upon the urging of Robert F. Kennedy, he set out on the path to public office. Glenn retired from the Marine Corps. as a colonel and worked as a business executive at Royal Crown Cola before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974 where he represented Ohio as a democrat and campaigned vigorously for weapons control and funding for science, education and space exploration.

He was a contender for the vice presidential nomination three times and ran for president in 1984’s Democratic primaries.

On February 20, 1997, Glenn announced that he would retire from the U.S. Senate after completing his fourth term. A year later, NASA invited Glenn back to its space program to travel to space on the space shuttle Discovery. On October 29, 1998, Glenn became the oldest person ever to venture into space at age 77.

Upon his retirement in 1999, Glenn and his wife Annie Glenn founded the John Glenn Institute for Public Service at the Ohio State University to encourage young people to pursue careers in government.

In 2012, President Barack Obama honored Glenn with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Glenn is survived by his wife Annie and their children, John David Glenn and Carolyn Ann Glenn.