John Glenn was in space this Halloween and some are questioning whether his second chance to ride a rocket was a trick or treat? It is both.
NASA's justification for sending Glenn on this trip was to test the effects of aging in space, but some have suggested it is a political payoff for the part Glenn played as a member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in derailing the campaign finance hearings. If NASA was so interested in measuring the effects of aging why did it tell astronaut Story Musgrave, who flew on the shuttle at age 61, that he was too old for space travel? As the Wall Street Journal suggested, Musgrave would have been a better candidate since NASA had more recent and detailed medical records on him. Also, it has been reported that Mr. Glenn was not in good enough physical condition to pass all the tests for some of the planned experiments.
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While it may have been a political payoff, it also was a brilliant publicity stunt. Many of Glenn's liberal colleagues in Congress have chipped away at NASA budgets over the years, preferring to spend the money on down to earth welfare programs. Also, there has been a lot of in-fighting between scientists in the manned and unmanned space programs. Since more people are involved in the unmanned program, it has become harder and harder to deliver the cash necessary to support the astronauts.
However, seeing Glenn in space is a treat for all of us. When he made his first trip into orbit in 1962, he displayed the daring pioneer spirit that made this country great. We are hungry for heroes. There are so few these days. Glenn's image was tarnished when it was discovered that he was one of five senators who intimidated federal regulators on behalf of Charles Keating, a large campaign contributor.
Glenn is a reminder that it may be easier to put your life on the line in a rare moment of courage as a humble astronaut than it is to resist the day-to-day temptations that come to those in positions of power. He also is a reminder of a time when we looked at space and said, "Why not," instead of "Why bother."