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Glenn: Tito flight a 'misuse' of space station

John Glenn
John Glenn  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former astronaut John Glenn called space tourist Dennis Tito's flight to the international space station a "misuse" of the multibillion-dollar facility.

"I don't blame him for wanting to go up," Glenn told CNN's "The Capital Gang" Saturday night. "And he's right, it's an incredible experience. But you know, the purpose of that whole spacecraft up there is basic research."

Tito, a former NASA scientist turned millionaire investor, returned to Earth on Sunday aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft after paying a reported $20 million to be a cosmonaut for a week. He came home to a growing row over whether tourists should be allowed to venture into space.

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"It's as though we've built a very special hospital or something, a very expensive hospital or laboratory here on Earth, and then one of the partners in it decided to use the other end of the building for something else," Glenn said on "The Capital Gang."

In 1962, as one of the original Mercury astronauts, Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth. He later became a U.S. senator from Ohio and returned to space at age 77 on a 1998 space shuttle mission.

He said Tito's trip did no real harm, "But I think he took a slot away from somebody who should have been up there on basic research ... I just think it takes a slot away from what the purpose of the mission is."

Glenn said space tourism will come "in the natural course of things," but the 16 partners in the international space station Alpha should set ground rules for how future excursions should be conducted.

NASA had reservations about Tito's flight, urging him to wait until more work had been done to the station. NASA administrator Daniel Goldin criticized Tito before a congressional subcommittee on Wednesday, telling lawmakers his flight has put "incredible stress on the men and women of NASA."

"Mr. Tito does not realize the effort of thousands of people, United States and Russia, who are working to protect his safety and the safety of everyone else."

Glenn's 1998 flight was meant to compare the effects of space flight on the elderly with its impact on younger astronauts. It also faced criticism from some observers who considered it more a publicity stunt for NASA than scientific research.

"They wouldn't let me do an EVA (spacewalk) incidentally, because they were afraid I'd wander off some place at my age," Glenn said.

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