John Glenn, among the seven men selected by NASA to become the country’s first astronauts, died on Dec. 8 at age 95. The former military man, Senator and astronaut donned the hero mantle on Feb. 20, 1962, when he became the first American to orbit Earth. He wore it lightly and well ever since.
Here’s a glimpse at his extraordinary life, from a black-and-white portrait when he was nine months old (with a finger pointed to the sky) to his return trip to space decades after his first. In between, there are the quiet moments with his wife, Annie; loud moments with the throngs of Americans cheering him on at a parade or ceremony; and insight into his political career from the 1970s to the late ’90s.
As TIME’s Jeffrey Kluger writes in his remembrance of Glenn, “So many Americans have never known a world that didn’t include him. And now all of us—Annie most acutely, but the rest of America too—will have to adjust to a world that is different. And is poorer.”