By Mark Ellis
John Glenn in 1962
As an American astronaut he gained heroic stature when he became the
first man to orbit the earth aboard Friendship 7 in 1962. Previously, he
won five Distinguished Flying Crosses in World War II, and years later
went on to become a U.S. Senator from Ohio.
Perhaps less well known is that he was a man of deep Christian faith.
Yesterday, when he left the bounds of earth once more at age 95, he
passed into the arms of his Savior, Jesus Christ.
He was one of the pioneering astronauts of the Mercury program at a
time when space travel was inherently risky. He said he prayed every day
during that time. Those prayers were needed on Glenn’s historic first
orbits in space.
the return on February 20, 1962, Glenn’s heat shield was thought to
have come loose and many believed it might fail during re-entry, which
would cause Glenn’s capsule to be incinerated in its fiery descent.
Glenn was instructed to take manual control of the capsule and
described “a real fireball outside” as he re-entered the atmosphere.
Thankfully, his and many other prayers were answered when he splashed
down safely in the Caribbean.
Shortly after his flight, he delivered a sermon, “Why I Know There is
a God,” that described his enlarged perspective on God as a result of
In his message, he marveled at the size of the universe. “Our galaxy
is some 100,000 light years in diameter…we realize how difficult it is
to visualize the tremendous scale of the universe beyond our solar
system. The limits of the telescopically observable universe extend at
least two billion light years from us in all directions,” he told his
listeners in 1962.
Then he expressed awe at discoveries from the microscopic level.
“Come back to what we know of atomic particles, the smallest particles
known. Atoms have a great similarity to our solar system in that they
have electrons rotating about a nucleus in regular patterns.”
“Now what is the point I am making?” he asked. “It is the orderliness of the whole universe about us, from the smallest atomic structure to the most enormous thing we can imagine.”
“Could this have just happened? Was it an accident that a bunch of
flotsam and jetsam suddenly started making these orbits of their own
accord? I can’t believe that. This was a definite plan. This is one big
thing in space that shows me there is a God. Some power put all this in
orbit and keeps it there.”
For by Him all things were created; things in heaven and on
earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by Him and for Him.
He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17)
A few years later, Glenn became an elder in the Presbyterian Church
USA. He attended the National Presbyterian Church as a member of
Congress. “I’m a Presbyterian, a Protestant Presbyterian, and I take my
religion seriously as a matter of fact,” he once said.
In 1998, Glenn returned to space on the Space Shuttle Discovery’s
STS-95 mission, becoming, at age 77, the oldest person to travel
in space. After that remarkable mission, he told reporters: “Looking at
the Earth from this vantage point, looking at this kind of creation and
to not believe in God, to me, is impossible. To see (Earth) laid out
like that only strengthens my beliefs,” he said.
Related: Encounter with Jesus on the moon left astronaut changed