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Glenn's return to space raises questions

Nov. 3, 1998

Most people know about the space shuttle Discovery's liftoff Thursday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and most people know John Glenn was aboard.

Like many, my initial reaction was one of 'Oh, isn't that nice' and other personal sentiments.

Then I got to thinking about how Glenn's selection was a great promotional choice but perhaps not the most appropriate one.

I'm not saying John Glenn isn't a 'true American hero' and doesn't deserve this honor. His courage in the risk of being the first American in orbit was great and still something at which to marvel.

But he is a multi-millionaire politician, and that fact reeks of some wonderful retirement gift.

This issue will remain unresolved for some time, and I've given up trying to persuade anyone, because I see valid points on both sides. But if someone's selection causes this much commotion and publicity, is it worth it? To NASA, I'm sure it is.

Glenn is now not only the first American in space, but also the oldest. OK, remember this is a man in his seventies. Even the strongest astronauts come back with severe fatigue and other physical problems, although it's usually after a mission longer than Glenn's 9-day one.

On of the purposes of the mission is to explore similarities between the effects of microgravity and the effects of aging on the human body. One could see how Glenn's selection is appropriate in this instance. Take into account that senior astronaut Story Musgrave was removed from flight status because he was 61, Glenn's junior by more than 15 years. Now, tell me if you don't see a conflict.

I'm not one to be against any promotion--well, almost any--for our space program, but all this hullabaloo is centered solely on Glenn. Don't believe me? OK, how many of you reading this can name the other six crew members without looking? Or how many of you really knew the focus and purposes of the mission or the research and experiments to be conducted?

I'm sure there are a few of you out there who do and would love to let me know that, but I'm putting most of my eggs in the other basket.

Shuttles take off quite frequently from KSC, and many we aren't too familiar with. So why this one? Ding, ding, ding. Yep, it's Glenn.

You can be sure NASA is loving the attention, although maybe not preferring where it is focused--but nonetheless, it's attention.

Yes, yes, Glenn's in good health, especially for a septuagenarian (yeah, there's a 10-dollar word for you), but he still was unable to take part in one of the experiments because of a health condition. Sounds murky at best to me.

Whether Glenn will do a good job is not a question for me. I don't think Glenn is necessarily a poor choice, but nonetheless, not the most appropriate or ethical. Even if it's all a set of coincidences and good intentions, the appearance tells a different story.

(Paul Gibson is a junior journalism and graphic art major from San Angelo.)

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