Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly recently announced his candidacy for Senate in Arizona, in a 2020 special election for the seat of the late John McCain. Kelly, who is running as a Democrat, released a long list on Monday of Arizona politicians who support his campaign. And if he’s successful — Kelly raised $1.1 million in the first two days of his campaign — he will join a short list of American astronauts turned politicos.
Many people dream of becoming astronauts, and it’s easy to see why: They get to travel to space, leave our planet behind, and experience zero gravity. But only a handful have wanted to lead back on Earth as well.
The list begins with John Glenn, who in 1962 became the first American to orbit Earth, clocking nearly five hours in space. He was also the first astronaut to be elected to public office.
Glenn had the résumé of an all-American hero. Besides his service at NASA, he had an extensive military career, serving in World War II and the Korean War. Glenn successfully ran for a Senate seat in Ohio in 1974. He held the position for 25 years and ran, unsuccessfully, for president as a Democrat in 1984. Glenn even returned to spaced while still a senator, becoming the oldest person to go to space when he flew on the space shuttle Discovery in 1998. “If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet,” Glenn famously said in 1997, “it’s that the happiest and most fulfilled people I’ve known are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound than merely their own self-interest.”
Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert — who may be most famous for uttering the famous phrase “Houston, we have a problem” — was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982 but sadly died of cancer before being able to take office. Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt also became a senator in New Mexico after returning from space.
“One thing that all astronauts do share is perspective — in the literal sense.”