John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth six months before Mike Massimino was even born. But 40 years later, when Massimino made his own first trip to space, he felt the gravitational, inspirational tug of what Glenn had accomplished so many years earlier.

On the occasion of Glenn’s 95th birthday, on July 18, Massimino reflects on an American legend.

Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.

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