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Published: Tuesday, 2/20/2007

John Glenn celebrates 45th anniversary of first orbit


COLUMBUS On the 45th anniversary of becoming the first American to orbit the earth, John Glenn said today he envies just one man.

In Neil Armstrong s case, I ll make an exception, he said. I ll be jealous.

The 85-year-old former U.S. senator told a crowd marking the anniversary of his historic flight in the COSI Columbus theater that bears his name that he wanted to be included in the Apollo program that eventually put Mr. Armstrong a fellow Ohioan on the moon seven years later. He couldn t understand why NASA blocked his every inquiry.

It was only later after reading a biography of John F. Kennedy that he learned the president didn t want Mr. Glenn used again. To this day, he doesn t know why.

The original plan was for Mr. Glenn to begin speaking at 9:47:38 a.m. to coincide with the time of his flight, but, unlike 45 years ago, this time he was able to put off history while awaiting the arrival of school children.

On Feb. 20, 1962, Mr. Glenn was launched into space aboard the Friendship 7 capsule that would orbit the earth three times, for a 81,000-mile flight.

It was awesome, I could vouch for that, he said in a crowd that included Gov. Ted Strickland.

Using black-and-white photos and a newsreel, Mr. Glenn described watching burning particles pass his window during reentry, and wondering whether it was the crucial heat shield breaking up.

He praised the current Bush administration s new interest in space exploration, which includes a return to the moon as a test run for an eventual manned Mars flight, but he criticized the administration s failure to put money behind it. The former astronaut said he was also disappointed that the international space station remains unfinished and under-utilized for research.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.

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