John Glenn deserves to fly and so does John Young
By Roger Guillemette
Previously published in
FLORIDA TODAY Space Online
January 20, 1998
TIVERTON, R.I. - "Godspeed, John Glenn."
These words still send chills down the spines of NASA officials and
ordinary citizens alike. They epitomize the spirit and courage exhibited
by our space pioneers - a nebulous set of noble characteristics that author
Tom Wolfe labeled 'The Right Stuff.'
All of America - in fact, all of the Free World - held its collective
breath as a 40-year-old 'Clean Marine' and former 'Name That Tune' champion
strapped himself on top of a flying fuel tank they called the Atlas, a
rocket with a nasty habit of blowing up almost as often as it reached orbit.
Mention the phrase to any American over the age of 45 and almost all
can tell you their exact whereabouts and what they were doing when those
historic words were first spoken on Feb. 20, 1962. Along with 'The Eagle
Has Landed', the term has become the maxim that defines the glory days
of space exploration - even today, a FLORIDA TODAY colleague proclaims
'Godspeed, John Glenn' every time an Atlas rocket rises majestically off
the launch pad - a 'real' rocket, as he likes to call it.
John Glenn only circled the Earth three times and spent most of his
five hours in orbit worrying if the heatshield on his Friendship 7 capsule
has become dislodged - if so, he would have faced almost certain death
during re-entry into the atmosphere. Glenn and his spacecraft survived
and he returned as a instant celebrity - the most recognizable face on
the planet. Hailed as a national hero, Glenn was transformed into The American
Who Finally Equaled The Soviets.
However, just like his Cold War counterpart Yuri Gagarin - the first
man in space, John Glenn was designated as a 'national treasure' - a man
deemed too valuable as a public relations tool to risk allowing him to
fly in space again. The Kennedy Administration and NASA officials, fearing
that losing Glenn in a mishap would derail public support of Kennedy's
national goal of a manned lunar landing, permanently benched him.
Now, at the young old age of 76, John Glenn is getting a second chance.
He's earned it.
Some pundits have derided Glenn's selection as a public relations gimmick,
pure politics. So what? Pure politics was the only reason that Glenn was
denied a second flight in the first place.
Glenn is not simply flying as an American icon; instead, he has willingly
consented to be poked and prodded as a human guinea pig - a Septuagenarian
Senatorial Specimen for Geriatric Studies.
Several members of today's Astronaut Corps have mumbled under their
breaths that 'Shuttle seats are too scarce' and should be occupied by someone
younger, someone like themselves or one of their fellow mythic heroes.
Get over it! When your resumes and track record of dedication and service
to your country matches that of Senator Glenn, then you have the right
to gripe - not until. Most likely, and as they well know, Glenn's inclusion
on the mission will not displace any current astronaut scheduled to fly
- instead, he will be an additional passenger, a crew consisting of seven
astronauts instead of just six.
However, if geriatric studies is truly the goal of this mission, with
an undercoating of 'repaying old debts' thrown in for good measure, then
NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin must consider righting another injustice.
Instead of brushing aside the suggestion with a joke, Goldin should add
another payload specialist (or in this case, a 'senior pilot') to the STS-95
mission - 67-year-old Senior Astronaut John W. Young.
The world's most experienced astronaut, Young is the only man to fly
in three different generations of spacecraft - Gemini, Apollo and the Space
Shuttle. Young flew the first Gemini mission with Glenn's comrade Gus Grissom
and later commanded the Gemini 10 mission. He has visited the moon twice,
first on Apollo 10, the dress rehearsal for the first lunar landing, and
then, as commander of Apollo 16, he became the ninth man to set foot on
the lunar surface. Young also commanded two Space Shuttle missions, including
the first voyage of Columbia in 1981, a bold and daring mission that rivaled
Glenn's flight in sheer audacity and courage.
Still on active-duty flight status, Young has not flown since before
the Challenger disaster, banished to a bureaucratic limbo by NASA officials
who were less than pleased with his pointed and candid criticisms that
followed the 1986 tragedy. Young, much to his credit, has maintained his
flight proficiency and standing as senior astronaut.
John Young's inclusion as a geriatric study candidate would be a perfect
complement to John Glenn - he is 10 years younger but his medical portfolio
with NASA goes back almost as far (Glenn was selected as an astronaut in
1959, Young was chosen in 1962). Young has spent much more time in weightless
conditions (as well as the one-sixth gravity of the moon), been exposed
to far more radiation and cosmic rays, and has endured the physical stresses
and g-forces of launch and reentry six times (including the unforgiving
Titan II booster and the bone-rattling Saturn V moon rocket). He is the
perfect candidate for a study of the effects of spaceflight on the aging
Like Senator Glenn, John Young is also a national hero and a true denizen
of 'The Right Stuff.' He deserves to be included on this mission and Dan
Goldin owes him the serious consideration. It's simply the right thing
Good luck, John Young.
And, Godspeed, John Glenn.
Reprinted by permission from author
and Space Online Editor