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Glenn to return to space

John Glenn
January 16, 1998
Web posted at: 12:24 p.m. EST (1724 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- NASA announced plans today to rocket 76-year-old John Glenn back into space, 36 years after the astronaut-turned-politician became the first American to orbit the Earth.

At a news conference Friday, Glenn, a Democratic senator from Ohio, declared he was ready to go, confessing to "a real sense of deja vu."

Glenn will return to space as a shuttle astronaut in October. The former Mercury astronaut will join the crew of the space shuttle Discovery, scheduled to launch in October 1998 for a 10-day mission.

John Glenn launches into space in 1962
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Glenn's previous flight, a five-hour, three-orbit flight in the Friendship 7 capsule on February 20, 1962, made him the third of seven Mercury astronauts to fly in space and the first American to orbit the Earth.

The nationally televised event sparked keen interest in the space race against the Soviet Union.

Glenn's launch
Glenn's launch February 20, 1962  

Glenn and the other Mercury astronauts achieved star status in the United States, and were the subjects of a best-selling book by Tom Wolfe called "The Right Stuff," referring to that undefined ideal of courage required by such "single-combat warriors."

Before his lone space flight, Glenn was a war hero with six Distinguished Flying Crosses won for more than 150 air missions in World War II and the Korean War.

Glenn has wanted to return to space for years, making his wishes known to NASA officials over a year ago. If Glenn returns to space, he will fly as an astronaut, not as a civilian, sources said.

First American to orbit the Earth  

The Ohio Democrat volunteered to be a research subject for experiments on the effects of weightlessness on older people. Glenn would become the oldest person to orbit Earth if the flight is approved.

NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin had said he was seriously considering Glenn's offer. NASA's evaluation was based on safety considerations and scientific merit of the proposal, Goldin said earlier.

"There has to be enough science behind this that it can't be ridiculed as a stunt," John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said before the decision was disclosed.

Glenn became an instant American hero  

Glenn has been in the Senate since 1975, and plans to retire at the end of the year.

To keep fit enough to meet NASA's standards for space flight, Glenn exercises daily and lifts weights. He also pilots his own plane and even set a 1996 speed record in his twin-engine Beechcraft Baron.

Glenn would not be the first politician to fly aboard the shuttle -- two members of Congress rode two shuttles in 1985. But he would be the first to fly since the 1986 Challenger disaster.

Correspondent John Holliman and Reuters contributed to this report.


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