Glenn advised to stay grounded; Toledo seniors comment on senator’s bid to return to space

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 11

If 72-year-old George Bush can jump out of an airplane at 12,000 feet, why can’t 75-year-old John Glenn take a few more laps around the planet?

That’s the question in the hands of NASA officials, who will decide whether the senator and ex-astronaut should make a return trip to space, more than three decades after he became the first American to orbit the earth.

Sunday morning, NASA administrator Daniel Goldin said he was giving “very serious consideration” to Mr. Glenn’s request for one final launch.

But many senior citizens at the East Toledo Family Center’s afternoon shuffleboard match yesterday were less than enthusiastic about Mr. Glenn’s post-retirement plans.

“John Glenn had his chance,” said Dorothy Backhurst, 81. “Someone else should have the chance. He’s got plenty of money. He doesn’t need the publicity. He’s gotten everything he needs.”

Said her husband, Roland, 88: “There are a lot of folks who’ve worked hard and deserve to go ahead of him.”

Of course, some people think the whole debate is a big waste of time. “I don’t think anybody belongs up there,” said Norbert Miller, the 81-year-old who periodically announces the score mid-game. “There are too many problems down here on Earth for anyone to waste time going up there. It’s all just a publicity stunt anyway.”

Don Thie, resting after a game, disagreed. “Why, at 75 years old, would he need publicity? As an ex-navy man, I think it’s wonderful.”

Would he take Mr. Glenn’s place on the shuttle?

“In a country minute,” he said.

Mr. Glenn argues that he presents a rare opportunity – the chance to study how older folks respond to the multiple g-forces of takeoff and the weightlessness of orbit. Scientists have shown that long stays in space can reduce muscle strength and weaken bones. For older people, those effects could be crippling.

Nancy Tremmel, the center’s program director and a gerontologist, said she was excited by the opportunity to use Mr. Glenn as a guinea pig for a study on extraterrestrial aging. “I think it would be interesting to see the effects of space on a 75-year-old body. He’s earned the right.”

But most seniors at the shuffleboard showdown said the senator should stay grounded.

“Let the young guys do it,” said Norm Schiffler, 71. “They could handle it a lot better. They know the technology and have all the training. We admire his gusto, but a lot of guys deserve it more.”

His advice to Mr. Glenn – find some way to relax that doesn’t involve orbiting the earth at 17,500 miles an hour.

“Let him settle back for a while. Enjoy life doing other things.”

And if the ex-senator has any difficulty keeping occupied after his retirement, he has an open invitation in East Toledo.

“Tell him to come on over,” Mr. Schiffler said, running his hands over a shuffleboard puck. “We’ll teach him a new avocation.”