Seventy-six year old John Glenn is inspiring millions around the world with the announcement last week that he is once again heading off into space as a crew member on the Space Shuttle Discovery. Glenn will serve as a payload specialist on the October, 1998 mission.
It may not seem that long ago, but Glenn made history 35 years ago when he strapped himself into a nine- by -seven foot capsule atop an experimental rocket and became the first American to orbit the Earth. Recently he asked NASA if he could fly again to conduct space-based research on aging, but only if he met the agency’s physical and mental requirements.
“Not only is John Glenn a Marine test pilot, an astronaut, and the first American to orbit the Earth, he brings a unique blend of experience to NASA,” said NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. “He has flight, operational, and policy experience. Unlike most astronauts, he never got the opportunity for a second flight.”
Since aging and space flight share a number of similar physiological responses, the study of space flight may provide a model system to help scientists interested in understanding aging. Some of these similarities include bone and muscle ss, balance disorders and sleep disturbances. Space biomedical researchers and gerontologists believe more research in these areas could help older people live more productive and active lives, and could reduce the number of individuals requiring long-term medical care in their later years.