Space's Elder Statesman

I'm in Houston just now. At the great American space exploration center that is NASA headquarters.

The reason, of course, is Senator John Glenn's upcoming trip back into space aboard a space shuttle.

At a news conference, Glenn was the relaxed, oozing-confidence astronaut of old, that many of us remember so well from the early l960s, when he became the first American to orbit the earth.

Glenn is in the twilight now, deep into his seventies, heading - he hopes - for a lively life in his eighties and nineties and who knows, perhaps beyond.

But there is, still, a steadiness about the man that's always been at the core of his appeal.

What he is doing here, preparing once again to go up along the final frontier, is complicated, with many facets to it. Including, certainly, his own nostalgia and desire for a victory lap of sorts in space.

But it's more than that. And one cannot listen to him for long and not know it.

John Glenn loves adventure, loves his country, believes, fervently, in the need for humans, not just machines, but also humans to explore deep space, to explore ever deeper up there and out there.

And John Glenn knows that support for American exploration of space has been lagging and sagging, especially human exploration.

He believes America should go on to Mars with human explorers. But he also knows that unless a whole new critical mass builds among the American people for such exploration, it is not likely to happen.

He wants to help re-build American public enthusiasm for exploration of the galaxy.

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