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John Glenn takes spin toward space

John Glenn
John Glenn  

Feels 'fine' after weighty whirl in centrifuge

February 19, 1998
Web posted at: 7:51 p.m. EST (0051 GMT)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (CNN) -- In preparation for his October space shuttle journey, U.S. Sen. John Glenn was whirled around in an Air Force centrifuge Thursday, subjected to the gravitation pressures he will endure during launch.

"It's a good drill. Everything went well," Glenn said after his two nine-minute spins in the centrifuge, sort of a high-tech carnival ride that creates an atmosphere three times the strength of normal gravity, or 3 Gs.

All first-time shuttle astronauts must undergo the centrifuge drill. But Glenn, at 76, is no ordinary astronaut, and officials at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio had an ambulance standing by while the test was being conducted. Glenn was also hooked to a heart monitor.

Glenn trains for his October mission
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"We're taking some special precautions because of Sen. Glenn's age. Not a big deal. We're not concerned," said Lt. Col. Jim Dooley, chief of operations for the Air Force's flight motion effects branch. "He's 76 years old, but he's in wonderful shape."

Glenn: 'Boring is in the eye of the beholder'

Glenn, who 36 years ago Friday became the first American to orbit the Earth, will be the oldest person ever launched into space when he makes his return trip on the shuttle Discovery. He is 12 years older than anyone who had previously gone through the centrifuge test.

The centrifuge
The centrifuge  

Dressed in an orange spacesuit with a helmet, Glenn lay horizontal in the centrifuge chamber, simulating the position he will be in when Discovery launches.

As the test proceeded, one technician talking to Glenn joked that the test was "boring."

"Boring is in the eye of the beholder," retorted Glenn, who lobbied NASA to let him back into space. When the centrifuge reached its top pressure, Glenn pulled his hands up and waved them at the camera, flexing his fingers.

According to Dooley, 3 Gs of force isn't all that much, although it can make it difficult to breathe. By contrast, fighter pilots can be exposed to forces of as much as 9 Gs.

Glenn squeezes in training during Senate recess

Glenn, who passed extensive medical tests before NASA cleared him to fly on Discovery, reported for training this week at Johnson Space Center in Houston. He is trying to squeeze in as much training as possible during a congressional recess before returning to his Senate duties next week.

Glenn has represented Ohio in the Senate since 1974.

Dozens of reporters and photographers were on hand for even this routine test -- a demonstration of the strong public interest in Glenn's return to space.

"I didn't sign up to get the publicity, but if it results in good publicity for NASA, why so be it. That's good," Glenn said.


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