The official purpose of Sen. John Glenn's voyage on the space shuttle Discovery was to conduct tests that would help us understand aging.
But the trip has already done more to help our understanding than any of those tests ever will. We've learned that age is not the final frontier. Space is.
Sure, this is still a country where aging is too often treated as a contagious disease or a capital offense. But who have been among the senator's loudest cheering sections? The schoolrooms and college campuses of America.
It was the young who reminded us that space exploration was only one line on Glenn's resume. They raised the question too many of us had forgotten to ask any more: Was there anything Sen. Glenn's generation couldn't do? By 1962, that generation had already defeated fascism, held communism at bay, and was busily conquering space.
And 36 years later, Sen. Glenn's generation is looking for an encore.
The senator's trip reminds us that to enjoy a vital old age, it helps to haven an inspiring project - something to get "fired up" about. Underscore for emphasis: Space travel may not be the right project for everybody.
It is for John Glenn: Unofficial reports from NASA were that younger astronauts couldn't believe how tough Glenn still is. That unseemly giggling you hear is probably Bob Dole -or Dan Rather.
Want the job done? Send an old guy. Correction: Older guy.
A voyage of Discovery indeed. For all of us.
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