Earth to John Glenn: Lighten Up!

Every day we get a little closer to John Glenn's launch off the pad, which will make him the oldest man in space since William Shatner.

Every day I look forward to it a little more, because I am so in love with the idea of sending our politicians to another planet.

I think Americans in general are happy to see Glenn go up, in what amounts to NASA's Old-Timers' Day. It figures to be the first flight in history in which an astronaut drinks Geritol instead of Tang.

People from all around the world seem to be equally excited about Glenn's upcoming joy ride.

I recently read where the townspeople of Perth, Australia, are planning to illuminate their house lights when Glenn goes by, the same way they did during his original orbit.

Being Australian, some of these people undoubtedly will be drinking from Foster's beer cans that are larger than Glenn's original capsule.

Yes, everybody seems pleased about America's space program beginning its new Senior Tour.

Everybody but one--John Glenn.


The whole appeal of Glenn's going into space for Americans coast to coast is that he is a man in his 70s who is out to prove that a man of his age can be put out toward Pluto rather than to pasture.

Unfortunately, Glenn himself doesn't see it this way.

He keeps harping and beefing because everybody is asking questions about his age and why a septuagenarian senator would rather sit on a launching pad than on a rocking chair.

Glenn keeps scolding everybody about this being a mission of science, a trip like any other trip in which an astronaut--even a not-so-young astronaut--is being shot into space for his expertise.

You know, in case they bring home any interesting space rocks or run into any black monoliths out there.

I can't blame Glenn for wanting to be taken seriously, except for one thing:

He's taking the fun out of it.

Everybody would like to get a kick out of us shooting a 70-something into the stratosphere. He can be kind of a guinea pig, in case we decide later to shoot lots of senior citizens into space.

Most of them live near Cape Canaveral anyway, or at least someplace in Florida.

Glenn, though, is acting all put out. He's upset because we don't seem to accept the fact that the reason NASA has invited him to be part of its next mission is because he is still a fully trained astronaut. He doesn't want to be considered cute, like some chimpanzee.

Which is all well and good, except for the fact that if NASA were strictly sending up astronauts who were the most qualified, it wouldn't be sending up any 70-something astronauts.

The senator's flight is a way of bringing needed attention to our space program, which can always use funds. John Glenn is not just an astronaut; he is an astronovelty. He is the new trapeze act at the circus.

Do you honestly think President Clinton is planning to attend the upcoming launch in person because he's always wanted to see a space shuttle go up?

No, he is the first president since Richard Nixon who will be on hand for a space launch because John Glenn is going back up there like a great old opera star coming out of retirement to do one last concert.

Remember what they say: The orbit isn't over till the old man splashes down.

I wish Glenn would loosen up. His helmet's on too tight.


What he is doing is splendid, heroic, inspirational. It is also a little self-serving, because trust me, NASA didn't really need to know how a guy in his 70s can function up in space. It isn't one of Houston's big priorities.

If the senator's not going to have a good time, neither are we.

We want John Glenn to circle the Earth again and report back to mission control that he's listening on his headphones to Lawrence Welk.

We want John Glenn to listen to the countdown and suddenly blurt out: "Wait a minute! I forgot my slippers!"

We want John Glenn to go up in space and complain that he's feeling a little chill, so his fellow astronauts will throw an afghan over him and bring him some hot tea.

Have some fun, John.

I know that someone in your position is expected to act with dignity and military precision. But we don't need a grumpy old astronaut.

We salute you on your bravery and pray for your safe return. But what we'd really like to see is John Glenn set foot out of the spacecraft, then call it "one step for old mankind."

Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053, or e-mail

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World