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Glenn: Space adventure 'strengthens my faith'

Glenn and Brown
Glenn and Brown  
John Glenn talks about the current mission in comparison with his last one
272K/24 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Discovery crew successfully launch satellite

November 1, 1998
Web posted at: 8:44 p.m. EST (0144 GMT)

In this story:

HOUSTON (CNN) -- On the fourth day of his space adventure, Sen. John Glenn says he's getting used to weightlessness, is sleeping well and hasn't experienced any of the "stomach awareness" that has plagued other astronauts.

He also said that looking down from space on Earth has strengthened his faith in God.

"To look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is to me impossible," Glenn said during a press conference from space Sunday evening. "It just strengthens my faith. I wish there were words to describe what it's like."

The former test pilot and lifelong avid aviator was asked if he has had a chance to go up to the pilots' cockpit of the space shuttle Discovery.

"I've snuck up there and sat down a couple of times just to see what it feels like, I must admit," Glenn said. "Would I like to have a chance to be in command of a flight sometime? Yes. But I think I am a little old for that."

Glenn makes pitch for Americans to vote

In between his work on scientific projects -- and serving as a guinea pig in several medical experiments -- Glenn said he has gotten a chance to do some transglobal sightseeing as Discovery orbits, including watching a spectacular lightning storm over South Africa and floating over Cairo.

Asked if he was enjoying himself so much that he would press NASA for another trip into space, the 77-year-old senator from Ohio laughed and said his wife might have some objections.

"I think if Annie's in the back of the room, you better clear it with her," Glenn said.

With the Stars and Stripes as a backdrop, Glenn sat with shuttle commander Curt Brown as questions were beamed up from journalists assembled at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Asked to assess Glenn's work as an astronaut, Brown said, "John's doing a fantastic job."

The only problem? "Every once in a while, he wants to grab my food," Brown said.

The senator also took an opportunity to make a pitch to Americans to go to the polls in Tuesday's election, noting that all of the U.S. shuttle astronauts had voted by absentee ballot.

"Unless you get out and vote, you're not participating the way you should," he said.

When he goes to sleep at the end of the space day Sunday, Glenn will wear a special sleep helmet with 23 sensors that will measure everything from his brain waves to how much he snores. When he wakes up, he will record the dreams he had while floating nearly 350 miles above the Earth.

Satellite will collect images of sun's corona

Spartan satellite
The release of the Spartan satellite, as seen from Discovery  

The major technical achievement Sunday for the Discovery crew was the successful release of the Spartan satellite, which will spend two days studying the sun before being retrieved by the astronauts on Tuesday.

Crew member Stephen Robinson used Discovery's robot arm to drop Spartan overboard as the shuttle was floating above Baja California. The satellite then did a pirouette, and Brown slowly backed the shuttle away.

Spartan will collect images of the sun's outer atmosphere -- the corona -- and the charged particles that stream from the sun out into space. On Tuesday, shuttle astronauts will haul it back in for the return trip home.

The flawless launch Sunday contrasted with a debacle in November, when a combination of human error and computer failure sent Spartan on a wild tumble into space. The errant satellite had to be recovered by two astronauts conducting a risky spacewalk.

To avoid a repeat, NASA improved Spartan's computer software, arranged better views of the satellite release for the astronauts and spent more time training them for the maneuver.

Also on Sunday, NASA released dramatic video taken during Discovery's launch by a camera attached to one of the solid rocket boosters, which are discarded and plunge back to Earth as the shuttle approaches orbit.

The video shows the booster tumbling through space, with alternating views of Earth and space in the background as it plunges toward the ocean.

NASA chief: Glenn's flight not political payoff

Solid rocket booster
In a NASA video, the solid rocket booster tumbles through space  

In an interview on CNN's "Late Edition" Sunday, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin deflected continuing criticism about sending Glenn back into space at age 77, saying America owed the first man to orbit the Earth a second flight.

Goldin denied that the decision was political, in response to criticism from the first person to break the sound barrier, Chuck Yeager, that Glenn's trip was "payoff" for his support.

"It's a payoff to John Glenn for his support of (President) Clinton and also the NASA budget. NASA needs the publicity and they couldn't have picked a better guy to hype the space program," Yeager told the San Antonio Express News.

But Goldin said when the idea of sending Glenn into space was first raised, he asked his staff to call the White House to make sure it was understood that it would be his decision.

"I had no discussions with the president, vice president or staff at the White House. (Glenn's trip) is not NASA's program. It's America's program, and it's peer-reviewed, good, meritorious science," Goldin said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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