Time fleeting for Glenn’s COSI questioners

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

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COLUMBUS — Pity poor Lindsey McCulloch.

She’d been waiting for weeks for this moment. Lindsey, 12 and earthbound, would send her voice up to the stars, off satellites and transponders, and right into the ear of John Glenn.

She had been one of a half-dozen honor students from Delta Middle School chosen to ride a school bus to Columbus and ask Mr. Glenn a question during his triumphant shuttle ride.

She had long ago prepared her question: “Senator Glenn, how does it feel to be the oldest man in space?” Fourteen children, standing in a back room at the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, had a total of 10 minutes to ask 14 questions. That was all the satellite time COSI could get.

Lindsey was scheduled to go 14th.

But John Glenn, never one to settle for a pithy response when a lengthy one will do, didn’t have a timetable in mind. No one was telling him to hurry up or keep his answers short in the interest of time, or in the interest of letting all the children get the thrill of sending a voice up to the stars.

So the world’s oldest astronaut kept talking, pushing the envelope on each question, as the clock ticked.

As soon as the senator finished answering question 13, something about his family, Lindsey walked up to the podium and leaned into the microphone. She looked down at her notecard and started reading:

“Senator – ”

“Discovery!” crackled the voice from the loudspeaker. It was Houston, command control. “This ends the allotted time for the Center of Science and Industry.”

It was over. Time ran out. The question remained unanswered. Lindsey was left standing there. A COSI staffer offered a big hug.

“I was disappointed,” Lindsey said.

Other than Lindsey’s unfortunate situation, though, everything seemed to work fine yesterday in Columbus, as hero-of-the-day John Glenn was peppered with questions via satellite audio hookup.

The students at COSI – six from Delta, eight from Columbus – were the first group of young people to get a chance to ask questions of Mr. Glenn and Commander Curt Brown.

After their 10 minutes were up, a group at the Newseum in Arlington, Va., got 10 minutes, along with a group from John Glenn High School in the senator’s hometown of New Concord, O.

The topics ranged from specific and scientific – questions about osteoporosis and inertia – to broad queries like “Do you feel younger in space?”

Mr. Glenn’s response to that question, posed by Delta Middle School’s Matt Lewis: “I guess I feel younger all the time. That’s why I wanted to come up here.”

Brock Burkholder, a seventh grader at Delta Middle, was satisfied with the answer to his question: How has technology changed since Mr. Glenn’s first flight in 1962? (Answer: an awful lot.)

“I was nervous,” Brock admitted.

Among the other things the students learned: No, your face doesn’t really flatten out and get distorted during takeoff.

Yes, John Glenn is “looking forward to being back” on Earth already. And they don’t know if a wound heals faster in space.

“I just hope that we’ve planted some seeds in the stomachs of some of these kids that there are these great human adventures going on, and that they can be a part of them,” said Kathryn Sullivan, COSI’s president and a former NASA astronaut.

Ms. Sullivan said she was happy the children were able to get through 13 questions but said that “John is jazzed up there, and it’s very easy to be exuberant” when answering a question.

The event had a guest of honor: Lorraine Smith-Richardson, 87 (“and a half”), who taught Mr. Glenn in fifth grade and again in high school.

“I’m so thrilled,” she said. “But I taught him speech class in high school, so maybe I’m to blame for his going on.”