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ALL SYSTEMS GO FOR OAP IN SPACE; Hero Glenn ready for lift-off aged 77.

Veteran astronaut John Glenn has proved he's still made of The Right Stuff at the age of 77.

The first American to orbit the Earth is ready to make history again - as the first pensioner in Space.

He's just passed tough physical training tests - the same ones taken by the rest of the space shuttle crew.

For a month, he's been doing gruelling exercises and learning emergency drills at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

He's spent hours inside space simulators that would make most people ill in a few minutes.

His hair may have gone from red to white since 1962 and he may have put on some weight, but no one at NASA is surprised by his test results.

He still flies his own plane, speed walks two miles a day and lifts weights. Glenn said yesterday: "I don't think I'm in such superb shape as everyone else seems to think."

But he is eagerly looking forward circling the earth at 18,000mph for nine days aboard the US shuttle Discovery.

The mission, due to take off on October 29, will make him the world's oldest astronaut by 16 years. It's all his own idea, and it took him three years of nagging NASA to achieve.

Glenn has only ever been into space once - on his flight in 1962, at the height of the Cold War and after the former USSR had put a man into orbit.

Then, he had to squeeze into a 9ft by 5ft craft. And no one knew if its heat shield would work or whether Glenn would end up burnt to a crisp when he re- entered the atmosphere.

He survived and became one of America's biggest heroes. His courage earned him a New York tickertape parade and the friendship of President Kennedy.

Glenn was desperate to make another flight but NASA made excuse after excuse not to send him up again.

After 18 months and out of sheer frustration, he quit and made a fortune in business before becoming a US senator. It was only years later that he found out Kennedy had put the block on him, fearing the damage it would do to America if one of her favourite sons was killed.

Glenn never gave up his dream to once again gaze down on the earth from 300 miles up.

As he approached retirement from politics, he decided to have another go at making it reality.

He said: "It became apparent that age might be an advantage."

With millions of Americans living longer, scientific inquiry into the process of ageing has become a major priority.

Glenn offered himself to NASA as a human guineapig, to study the effects of space on his own body, and they agreed.

This time, he hopes the flight will go on schedule. His last launch was postponed 10 times.

He recalled: "It was almost like it was designed for suspense by Hollywood." He finally got away, circled the globe three times, and landed in the Atlantic, restoring American pride.

The country has not forgotten. Every hotel, motel, and camp site for 100 miles around is booked solid for his next flight.

And "Go, Glenn, Go" T-shirts are selling like hot cakes.

But no one is looking forward to it more than the man himself.
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Author:Dowdney, Mark
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 8, 1998
Words:549
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