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Glenn 'loved every minute' of space training

John Glenn
Glenn takes questions at a Friday press conference  

Calls first week 'rigorous,' 'exhilarating'

February 20, 1998
Web posted at: 9:05 p.m. EST (0205 GMT)

HOUSTON (CNN) -- After enduring the first week of training for his long-awaited return to space, U.S. Sen. John Glenn pronounced the experience "rigorous" and "exhilarating" but insisted, "I've loved every minute of it."

Glenn, 76, and the six other members of the crew that will fly aboard the space shuttle Discovery in October held a news conference Friday at the Johnson Space Center. It was the 36th anniversary of Glenn's pioneering 1962 journey into space, when he became the first American to slip the bonds the Earth.

Despite his nearly four-decade absence from space, "I feel I can pick things up as well now as I ever did," said Glenn, who will be the oldest person ever launched into space.

"I think people let themselves slow down too often, and if you keep busy, I think your mind and your physical system keeps active right along with it," he said.

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Glenn takes on critics

Glenn also defended his journey into space from critics who say that it is being done not so much for the sake of science but for the sake of publicity.

"I know there's a lot of interest in this," Glenn said. "But I'm here to be a working crew member, training as a working crew member, and that's exactly what I'm going to do."

"I hope everybody concentrates on the science of this thing," he said.

He said the shuttle trip -- during which he will be subjected to a battery of tests to determine the physical effects of space on a person of Glenn's age -- should help provide new insights into aging that could help people on Earth.

"This is basic, fundamental research. We have some 35 million Americans over the age of 65," Glenn said. "The basic purpose of why I'm going is not just to go sightseeing."

But if Friday's press conference is any indication, Glenn's return to space is clearly overshadowing everything else on the mission. As question after question was directed at the Ohio Democrat, his fellow crew members -- some of whom weren't even born when Glenn first went into space -- watched silently.

When Glenn was asked by a reporter to do a push-up, he refused. The reporter asked again, and Glenn refused again. "Glad you didn't ask me," quipped mission commander Curtis Brown Jr.

Glenn in spacesuit
Glenn put on the spacesuit Thursday for testing in the centrifuge  

Glenn's return had to meet NASA standards

After his four-hour trip journey in 1962, Glenn never returned to space. He discovered later that President John F. Kennedy had ordered him grounded, presumably out of fear that Glenn, who had become a national hero, might be killed in a space accident.

He eventually left the astronaut corps and became a U.S. senator in 1974.

The seeds of Glenn's return to space were sown in June 1996, when he approached NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin, proposing that the space agency conduct a study on the geriatric effects of space. Glenn volunteered to be the guinea pig.

Friday, Glenn said Goldin told him the mission had to go through a scientific peer review to determine that it was "good science" and that Glenn would have to pass the same physical requirements for every other astronaut.

Both requirements were met, Glenn said Friday.

Glenn's wife wary of trip

But one of the biggest critics of his return at that time, according to Glenn, was his own wife.

"Annie was not wildly enthusiastic -- I'll put it that way," said Glenn. "She's come around. She's enthusiastic about it now."

Two of the seven people on the Discovery crew are doctors, but Glenn stressed that they were not being included on the flight for his benefit.

"We didn't need two doctors for me, that's for sure," he said. "After the training here this week, I don't think there's much doubt about my being able to keep up.

Glenn also said he would be pleased if older Americans took away a message from his new adventure in space at the tender age of 77.

"If can encourage people to be more active to an older age, well, fine. That's good. That may be a by-product of this flight that we didn't anticipate going in," he said.


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