John Glenn Weighs In On Human Spaceflight Future

John Glenn Weighs In On Human Spaceflight Future

John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth and later a U.S. Senator from Ohio, published an essay on the Ohio State University website giving his views on the future of the human spaceflight program. He agrees with the Obama Administration’s decision to extend the International Space Station’s timeframe and forgo a Moon base, but wants to keep the shuttle flying and keep NASA focused on sending people to Mars. He is not enthusiastic about commercial crew, and emphasizes the need for NASA to build a heavy lift launch vehicle.

He finds it “hard to accept” that American astronauts will have to rely on Russia to take them into space “probably for the next five to ten years” and does “not believe it has to be this way.” He provides a brief background of the history of human spaceflight (with a few factual errors, but they do not undermine his basic points), and explains why he agrees with the President on some parts of the plan and not on others. His major thrust is advocating continuation of the space shuttle program and ensuring a robust program thereafter to ensure the United States does not lose its lead to China and India. Quoting Gus Grissom’s famous line “No bucks, no Buck Rogers,” Glenn stridently argues for adequate funding from the White House and Congress.

Glenn and Grissom were two of the first group of seven astronauts chosen in 1959. Grissom died in the 1967 Apollo 204 accident.

Glenn’s first spaceflight was in 1962 as part of the Mercury program. His second was in 1998 when he flew aboard the shuttle as a U.S. Senator. He had already announced his decision not to run for reelection so it would be his final year in the Senate. The Clinton Administration’s decision to allow him to fly was somewhat controversial not only because of his age at the time (77), but because it was the first time since the 1986 Challenger tragedy that a “spaceflight participant” was allowed on a shuttle mission. Glenn and his supporters argued that it could provide valuable life science data on how he reacted to spaceflight as a senior citizen and in comparison to his flight three decades earlier. He is currently an adjunct professor of political science and public affairs at Ohio State.

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