1998: John Glenn Preps for Return to Space

Oct. 23, 1998: American space program pioneer prepares for Discovery mission.
3:00 | 02/15/12

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Transcript for 1998: John Glenn Preps for Return to Space
How -- -- recapture the magic of America's early space progress we all gathered around a TV set and watched in all. Well sending John Glenn back into space is a good start. I first met -- in 1957 when he was a record setting marine pilot before there was a NASA. We were both 36 of them were -- 77 now. And I wondered how he's been holding up to the rigors of training for next -- space mission. What I found out did not surprise me John Glenn had the right stuff then and he has the right stuff now that he would. Be the first to tell you he's just part of a long tradition. It was man's first step toward the stars. In December of 193. Orville Wright made the first sustained controlled flying in human history. There airplane hangs today in the Smithsonian air and space museum in Washington. It had taken -- and thousands of years to fly but only 59 years after this milestone. Another son of Ohio John -- was crammed into this unlikely craft on the verge of another historic moment. The thing looks wolf. Is small -- The whole thing he remains who vividly Bristol mean that I remember who it was just charters -- you. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- armed NN family. Are -- February 20 in 1962. America has lost to -- with the Russians to get the first man industry. National pride is riding on forty year old astronaut John -- -- almost a hundred feet up on top of that that was rock. If all goes well then -- -- is certain that it will. Then we'll be the first American to orbit the earth and America will be back in the race for. -- 43 times actually suited up four times. Although you. Holding that's the kind of started back up. The flight was delayed so often that the operation begun to look like an embarrassing fiasco going back. I finally flew on the eleventh scheduled date. America held its breath and are happy. After. Qaeda groups were blown. And you immediately go to one point six he's just like that. Can't learn it. Okay. Okay. Okay. -- would be in space longer than any man before him. But no one knew for sure how Glenn's body would react to prolonged weightlessness some of the things -- the doctors were concerned of those. With your -- change shape. And you would mean -- -- his front panel properly. Would your. Random movement -- -- -- your give. Such. Vertigo and nausea that you would be able to know what you're doing Jewish percent of all. The capsule hurtled around the -- that 181000 rooms for our troops covering five miles every second. -- witnessed -- sunrise and sunset every ninety minutes. He then let's hear what went down apparently. -- -- -- have a brilliant little management. Claire cried almost covering my whole -- know. Limbs snapped photos of home using a 45 dollar camera he bought -- approach to. Five hours after lift off. Glenn's flight was cut short and friendship seven splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean after a record three orphans. Instantly -- was a hero around the globe. In New York Wall Street -- -- and his fellow Mercury astronauts with a ticker tape parade. Clinton was so popular that his friend president Kennedy quietly ordered that he should not be -- in space again. But no one -- John -- his request for another mission were denied until he gave up and retired in 1965. Nine years later he ran for and was elected US senator from Ohio. -- says he's proud of his political accomplishments especially his efforts to slow nuclear proliferation. But he always dreamed of a return to space. Over the years other astronauts followed Glenn into orbit on the Gemini Apollo and later the space shuttle missions. NASA scientists received consistent reports of physiological effects caused by the weightless environment. The -- there fifty some changes a tourists who for the happened of the human body in space. These physical changes included fluctuations in blood pressure and balance control. Weakening of the bones and disruption of sleep cycles. Then three years ago Glenn had a revelation while reading a national pamphlet on the effects of weightlessness. Well I noted that -- about -- ten of those things that happen as a natural part of the aging process right here on earth. So I talked to the people over NASA and they have -- some these same things but never gone forward with any experiments on. -- thought he had found a way to realize his dream of returning to -- he asked an old friend specialist and aging doctor Robert Butler. To help get the idea off the ground and had ideas about the parallel relationship between -- phenomenon that's based -- Pretty soon it was a memorandum of understanding between. NASA and the National Institutes of Health. And this led to. -- twelfth investigations of will be conducted in the space flight. Glenn was given a slot on the next mission available as TS 95 in the orbiter discovery. Commander curt brown was five years old when Glenn first flew to key players to keep -- payload specialist hard at work. It is a very complicated mission that we have. I think right now 83 different payload operations aboard -- just 95. And that's that's a huge number so we have to train to learn that science and know how to operate their experiments and -- shuttle flights we train for about a year. Okay were passing 49000 feet about 200 feet five knots. Part of the training involves repeated launches re entries and landings in a motion based shuttle simulator forward and those of pick -- American. There -- ago. Our our third street down under -- number -- supervision I took the controls during two simulated landings or. It is a little sensitive this -- those -- -- -- -- -- -- It's remarkably realistic and requires intense concentration in fact that shuttle simulator is so -- -- -- felt we'd really be in jeopardy if I didn't -- it -- it -- There. Touchdown. Very calm and avoid a drag -- and you can go ahead pushed and other relevant -- Today -- -- -- America but here a Houston we do not have a problem. All shot. -- pilots are required to practice flying the shuttle simulator. Team members also experience weightlessness aboard a NASA aircraft affectionately known as the vomit comet. Because of a common reactions of the giant parabolic -- -- -- to create 32 periods of zero gravity. -- was not required to write the -- -- -- it is over 500 hours of mission. In preparation a. But after experiencing the level of training necessary to work in space I have renewed respect for what John Glenn is doing now. Intensive training for this nine day mission began over seven months ago. The seven member crew must learn expensive emergency procedures is full scale shuttle -- Glenn practiced how to repel out of a domed shuttle. And the proper evacuation -- after an emergency splashdown. The pre launch escape to involve sliding down a cable from again from receive -- There's also much to learn about day -- -- living aboard the orbiter. Astronaut Robert -- -- showed me around the living space. Astronauts learn to use the Galley. Sleep restraints. And the space toilet just like a vacuum. -- and his crewmates will have 65 times more living -- he had on friendships. Like history. In my leg yell at my feet up behind the punishment panel that other when they placed a move to like there will be in the in the orbiter. One of the biggest differences between the spacecraft and the and discovery orbiter. Is this -- and no single computer. Compare that to the shuttle is controlled by fire on board computers. He -- -- an assignment will be to function as if you didn't. For tests of the effects of weightlessness on an aging by the body's immune system change. Osteoporosis sets him balance changes your coordination changes cardiovascular changes. Muscle breakdown acres of sleep patterns or her older. Tremendously. Equity. Several bodily functions will be constantly monitored during the mission's his blood will be tested so often that a catheter will be attached to his arm for the duration of the flight. He will swallow small thermometer transmitter each day contract internal temperature changes -- We will also conduct several tests one experimental track reduction in muscle -- result of both weightlessness and agent. Why those most momentous change but what happens to them buying them of the muscle strength and possible. And he -- to be sitting there collecting saliva appearance floods as -- lowly payload specialist. And will be spending and in the centrifuge bulletproof from various people collecting them not only from himself but from the from the other six astronauts. It is of special interest of sciences that most of the effects of weightlessness reversed themselves with the astronauts return to earth. After the mission Glenn and the other astronauts will undergo further tests to learn how Glenn's aging body changed in space. Understanding why these changes happen is the first step in reversing. In medicine we often -- tremendous amount from one individual. So we can gain some insights about underlying mechanisms that are parallel. Between aging and space conditions that could open up a whole world of understanding both of respect aging and space living. If we can get some of the answers to these things as to what causes -- body to it to turn on and off and doing take -- some of the frailties of old age. But not everyone thinks Clinton should be allowed to go on this mission -- some of the critics. Say -- some of these expert was could be -- -- -- on the ground -- effectively not as effectively that's what we're trying to deal with is that part of that there will be unique. 20 gravity. The other groups as if you're not a representative 77 year old in the division since more average guy up who is well I'm sure I had. I get a kick out of that one in particular. If we're going to look into some of these things with -- an older person why would you you know wants an -- for sickle geezer. On my mind it's not only is the value that comes about from some scientific insights. Lot of symbolism. I don't think anybody's gonna look -- her grandfather in the same way. After this man comes back to earth safely in November I think the whole idea that older people can be and are contributors are. -- -- -- Individuals -- -- -- demonstrating just beautiful -- As the final launch preparations are made me. It will be impossible to ignore the echoes of another era and once again America will be caught up in the excitement of an adventure. The first American to orbit the earth will become the oldest man ever to go into space. Tucked into a flight suit pocket Glenn will carry a small Patrick hall. From the wing of the Wright Brothers -- subtle tribute to the spirit that brought him to this moment. And as John Glenn suits. You will be witnesses to a rare sight these things and genuine American hero. And if you look closely you'll see this astronaut reborn. As having the time of his life. There -- always very drugs. Thank you appreciate --

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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