7 February 1998
News - Other (None)
John Glenn to fly on board space shuttle
Space flight by 76 year-old Senator will show that anyone can go
by Patrick Collins
NASA has announced that Senator John Glenn (D Idaho), the first US citizen to orbit the Earth (in 1962) will fly on board the space shuttle in late 1998. Scepticism has been expressed about claims that this will be useful for research on ageing, and it is acknowledged that his case is exceptional. (There's a long queue of other ex-astronauts who'd like a flight!)

Whether it's a good idea is a matter for US taxpayers to decide. Kinder people may feel that, having put up with being "lionized" by the press for his famous flight - which lasted only a few hours, in a container about the size of a motor-cycle side-car - it's neat for Glenn to taste the "luxury" of a flight on board the space shuttle. Others may feel that instead of using more taxpayers' money he ought to be campaigning for space tourism, so that he can buy a ticket to orbit along with everybody else (link to earlier item).

Looking on the bright side, Senator Glenn is now 76 and he'll become the oldest person to visit space to date. His flight should therefore show that anyone can go to space. Of course, as a young man, John Glenn was a super-fit test-pilot. But a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, and he isn't a super-fit 76 year-old. Consequently his flight will demonstrate that experiencing 3 G acceleration for about 5 minutes, followed by a few days of zero-G, and finally 3 G again on re-entry is no more stressful to a person in ordinary health than travelling on a roller-coaster or in an aeroplane - which are of course open to anyone who isn't seriously ill.

Asked whether he supported NASA's flying Glenn, Buzz Aldrin is reported to have commented "When I'm as old as John Glenn, I'll go to space too - except I'll pay my own way!" ( Buzz Aldrin has recently been lending his weight to efforts to start commercial space tourism services, which feature in his novel "Encounter with Tiber".)
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Patrick Collins 7 February 1998
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