Glenn, crew answer questions from youths in Virginia, Ohio Senator tells students about space experiments he is participating in

November 01, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOUSTON -- Taking a break from a regimen of medical tests aboard the orbiting shuttle Discovery, John Glenn yesterday fielded questions from earthbound students, one of whom quickly asked if the world's oldest astronaut feels younger in space.

"I guess I feel young all the time," said the 77-year-old Ohio senator. "That's the reason I volunteered to come up here.

"It's an advantage up here for older folks because in [zero gravity] you can move around much more easily. I've been bumping my head a lot on things as I float around here, and that's all right."

The 30-minute news conference linked Glenn and Discovery Cmdr. Curtis Brown Jr. with students in Arlington, Va., and at two venues in Glenn's native Ohio, including John Glenn High School in his hometown of New Concord.

"Were you more nervous being the first American in space, or being the oldest person in space?" asked one student, referring to Glenn's three-orbit ride around the globe in 1962.

"Both are great things to participate in," he replied. "But I think I was more nervous back in those days because we didn't know much about space flight."

Glenn, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, was launched back into space Thursday from Florida's Kennedy Space Center. He and his six crew mates are to conduct more than 80 scientific experiments during the nine-day mission, including several designed to compare the aging process on Earth with the effects of microgravity.

Although critics have suggested that launching the retiring Democratic senator has more to do with politics and NASA public relations than science, Glenn will be poked and probed often while making 144 orbits of the planet at 17,500 miles an hour.

Crew mate Scott Parazynski, a physician Glenn has nicknamed Igor, drew the first of several blood samples from the senator yesterday. Glenn also swallowed an amino acid pill and received injection of another amino acid to see how fast protein in his muscles is stored or breaks down.

Glenn also began collecting urine samples and prepared for a four-night sleep experiment in which he will be fitted with 23 sensors to monitor breathing, snoring, eye and chin movements and brain waves.

Beginning with today's sleep, Glenn told the students, he would have so many wires radiating from his body that "it looks like you're some kind of bug."

The Discovery crew dealt with a few minor equipment breakdowns, including a new water purifier that was leaking. But Brown, a 42-year-old U.S. Air Force officer making his fifth shuttle lTC flight, said his biggest problem as commander was getting his crew to quit looking out the windows and go to bed.

Pub Date: 11/01/98

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