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It's official: Glenn will return to space

John Glenn
January 16, 1998
Web posted at: 1:03 p.m. EST (1803 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- "What an incredible day for John Glenn, for Ohio, for NASA, but most of all, for America, because the man who almost 36 years ago climbed into the Friendship 7 and showed the boundless promise for a new generation, is now poised to show the world that senior citizens have the right stuff."

With those words, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin confirmed reports that at age 76, former astronaut John Glenn has been approved for an October shuttle flight.

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"I'm very proud to have been part of the beginning of America's space program, and needless to say I am excited to be back and I am honored and privileged," Glenn explained.

"But," he said, "It is not important how I feel standing here. The important thing is the opportunity that this gives to take us in some new directions with research and I think that is really what we are kicking off."

Goldin said Glenn's flight, in addition to possibly helping older Americans live healthier, longer lives, could even change America, giving grandchildren a different outlook on their grandparents and inspiring older Americans to take on new adventures.

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"When somebody ... comes to you and asks, 'I'm willing to risk my life to benefit the lives of older Americans, can I go?' the answer is certainly yes," Goldin said. "Today, his commitment to service ensures that one of the great heroes of the 20th century will be America's first hero of the 21st century."

Glenn, now a four-term U.S. senator from Ohio, joined the ranks of legendary astronauts in 1962, when he squeezed himself into a small Friendship 7 capsule. He had so little space that he was jokingly referred to by space officials as the "man in a can" -- and in a four-hour, 55-minute flight, he became the first American to orbit the Earth.

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At 77 -- his birthday is July 18 -- he would be, by a decade and a half, the oldest American to go into space. When he ended his career as an astronaut, he embarked on a successful political career.

But in recent years, he has lobbied NASA extensively to get the agency to use him for geriatric research, helping to connect the space agency's researchers with scientists eager to see how weightlessness may affect human aging.

Press conference

Glenn, who will fly on a 10-day mission tentatively scheduled for an October 8 liftoff, said he is mentally and physically ready for the mission.

"I've tried to keep myself in reasonable physical shape. NASA does not have a formal training project where everybody has to run six miles a day or something; they leave it up to individuals," he said..

Space is a good place for gerontological study, because of similarities between what happens to a body in zero gravity and what happens naturally over time on Earth.

In younger astronauts, Glenn said, the "aging" effect reverses itself when they return to Earth. He hopes to learn, among other things, whether older people are immune to that effect, or whether it manifests itself in different ways in people who have already been through the aging process.

Correspondent John Holliman contributed to this report.


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