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GLENN FLIGHT ENDS ON HIGH NOTE; SPACE SHUTTLE DISCOVERY MISSION EXCEEDS NASA'S EXPECTATIONS.

Byline: Seth Borenstein Knight Ridder Newspapers

After defying age and gravity by going back into space, John Glenn mastered both Saturday on his return to Earth.

Following nine days in weightless space and a smooth landing, he walked - triumphantly, but ever so gingerly - around the space shuttle Discovery, showing that nature could not bend his spirit or body.

While others worried about the sudden return of gravity - at times reaching twice the force of normal gravity during the fiery re-entry into Earth's atmosphere - the 77-year-old Ohio senator sloughed off those concerns as easily as he shrugged off any ill effects from his newly rediscovered weight.

``I want to reprise a statement I made a long, long time ago except this time it is: One-G and I feel fine,'' Glenn said from the shuttle a few minutes after the wheels stopped at 12:04 p.m. and 29 seconds EST. It was a play off his ``zero-G and I feel fine'' comments during both his launches. He then added, ``To those whose prayers along with my own followed us around the world, our heartfelt thanks and appreciation.''

Walking around the shuttle, Glenn showed a slight, halting limp. That ``unsteady footing'' is common, said Sam Pool, assistant director of space medicine for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Part of NASA's scientific study on aging and weightlessness looks at the wide-gaited wobbly walk that many returning astronauts - and elderly people - share.

Glenn gave the NASA shuttle team ``my personal thanks for a job well done. Give each other a pat on the back; you deserve it.''

But mostly Saturday it was Glenn and his colleagues who received the accolades for their 3.6 million-mile journey.

``Welcome home Discovery and a crew of seven heroes,'' astronaut Susan Still radioed from Mission Control in Houston. Ex-astronaut William Readdy, who runs the shuttle program out of Washington, said Discovery's mission ``has wildly exceeded everybody's expectations.''

Just as in the thunderous launch of Glenn into space, his relatively silent return to Earth on the shuttle-turned-glider was a time for spectacle and hyperbole at a clear and warm Kennedy Space Center.

The ultimate flourish came just after landing, when the 50-member Waterford High School Marching Wildcats - from an Ohio town just 35 miles from Glenn's birthplace - broke into the ``Star Spangled Banner.''

And once again everyone wanted a piece of Glenn, whose wife Annie, son David, and daughter Lyn were waiting for him.

``If Annie's not there, I'll hug him first,'' NASA Administrator Dan Goldin said in a news conference by the shuttle landing strip. ``And then I'll tell him: `You are a true American hero. You got back in that shuttle and you went because you believe you can improve life here on Earth. You're going to stimulate the excitement of people who are aging. You'll get grandchildren looking at their grandparents differently. You did everything you promised me . . . you'd do.' God Bless you, John Glenn.''

Glenn's main mission was to be part of a study on how weightlessness and aging act similarly. Researchers monitored his sleep, food intake, and blood. There was other research being conducted, totaling 83 experiments on board.

``Almost all (the experiments) were at or over 100 percent successful,'' NASA shuttle program manager Tommy Holloway said in a post-landing news conference.

As Discovery's seven-member crew came outside, they were greeted with applause from the ground workers. They met a receiving line of hugs and handshakes, like at a wedding.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

PHOTO (1--Color) Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, steps out of the crew transport vehicle.

(2--Color) Space shuttle Discovery lands safely at Kennedy Space Center.

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 8, 1998
Words:608
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