BACK IN SPACE
January 15, 1998
Ohio Senator and former astronaut John Glenn plans to make his second trip into the wild blue yonder as part of an experiment on geriatrics aboard the space shuttle Discovery. Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth and, at 77, will be the oldest person in space after next fall's shuttle flight. NASA adnimistrator Daniel Goldin and Glenn spoke to reporters.
JIM LEHRER: Now, John Glenn's second time around. The 76-year-old Senator will be orbiting the Earth again this fall as part of an experiment involving geriatric research aboard the space shuttle Discovery. He and NASA administrator Daniel Goldin discussed the mission at a news conference today in Washington.
DANIEL GOLDIN, Chief Administrator, NASA: When someone who has risked their life countless times for a space program and for our country comes to you and asks, I'm willing to take the risk of space flight and serve my country again, because I think we could do more to benefit the lives of older Americans, can I go, I am extremely proud to announce that John Glenn of Ohio, the first American to orbit the Earth, will get his long-awaited and much deserved second flight.
SEN. JOHN GLENN, (D) Ohio: I can't help but stand here today with a real sense of deja vu, some 40-year-old almost sense of deja vu, because I was on a stage similar to this and introduced as one of the first seven astronauts all those years ago. And we got accustomed to standing even in alphabetical order. We were photographed enough back in those days, and it was Carpenter, Cooper, Glenn, Grissom, Shirah, Shepherd, and Slayton, in that order. It was an exciting time. It was an adventurous time. Our country was on the verge of taking a step into the unknown, a step that we didn't even quite know how to train for back in those days. And, needless to say, I'm excited to be back, and I'm honored, I'm privileged, but more than that, it's 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.
REPORTER: Congratulations, Sen. Glenn. How will you prepare mentally and physically? And will your preparation be different from, shall we say, the younger members of the team?
SEN. JOHN GLENN: Well, mentally I'm ready right now. I don't think I'll need any preparation in that. But physically, I've tried to keep myself in reasonable shape physically through the years, and exercise every day, and NASA does not have a formal training project where everybody has to go out and run six miles every morning, or something like that. They leave it up to everybody to keep in the best shape possible because they know the job to be done and know how important physical conditioning is. And I'll be in good physical shape, I can guarantee that.
REPORTER: Senator, as a person untrained as a crewman for aboard the space shuttle, what operational and emergency response skills do you anticipate having to learn? Does this present a challenge that you think may be troublesome to you as a person of your age? And how long will the training take, and when do you start it?
SEN. JOHN GLENN: I don't see anything troublesome with it at all. Obviously, I'm not the mission commander. I'm going as a payload specialist with very specific duties. Now, there are certain things that are common to everybody that goes up on the space flight as far as emergency procedures, use of the suits, and emergency use of the suits, survival training, all of these things that everybody goes through. And then there's some things too where the crew coordination of certain activities or functions on board are necessary. And I will certainly be trained in all of those things.
REPORTER: Sen. Glenn, there's been some suggestion that this assignment is the result of a political payoff of some sort; that your performance at the Senate hearings on the campaign finance reform impressed the White House and this is a reward, in effect, for that performance, if you will. I'd like to know from Mr. Goldin, first of all, if you have been in contact with the White House about this, and then from Sen. Glenn, if you feel this is, indeed, the case.
DANIEL GOLDIN: I could say unequivocally I made the decision. I'm personally responsible and accountable for that decision. And I did not notify the White House till about noon yesterday, a few minutes after I made the decision.
SEN. JOHN GLENN: Let me say that nothing could be further from the truth. When we started the campaign finance hearings, which many of you covered, I was disappointed we didn't do those hearings on a more bipartisan basis. And I was left in the position of trying to balance out the report and the investigations that were done. And I said as a rule, going into those hearings, that I would--if I was to be believed at the end of the hearings and have credibility, it would be because I did not have direction from anybody else. And I have, to this day, not discussed the campaign finance hearings with the President or the Vice President or anyone in the White House.
REPORTER: Was there ever a time that prior to ‘96 that you were close to broaching the question of returning to space earlier than 1998?
SEN. JOHN GLENN: No, there was not. As was mentioned earlier, I had one flight. I always wanted to go back up again. That opportunity was not there. I used to go in and see Bob Gilruth about once a month, who was director of the program, and ask to be put back on flight status. And at that time headquarters didn't want me to go back on flight status again. And so after a year or so I went on to other things. But when I got looking into some of these other things here and went out and talked to the people at the National Institute of Aging and found their interest in this thing and there were several workshops they had with some of their scientists who came in, and after all that then, I began to think, look, if I can pass a physical, why not me, if we're going to look into these, and that's when I went in the summer of ‘96 and talked to Dan Goldin. And it's been a process of working out those things ever since.
JIM LEHRER: NASA also announced an Idaho schoolteacher will train for a future space shuttle mission. Barbara Morgan had been the backup to Christa McAuliffe when the Challenger blew up in 1986.