banner photo 2 JY Logo This page last updated      

What's New
Why John
My Views
Other Tributes
John's Essay

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 process.

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 to do.

Good luck, John Young.

And, Godspeed, John Glenn.

Reprinted by permission from author Roger Guillemette and Space Online Editor Mark DeCotis

Go back a page
Back to the Other Opinions & Tributes Page

Main Page      Biography      Missions      Appearances      Bibliography      Site Map      Critique this site!      Other Astros