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Glenn’s Mission Is One for Seniors

October 29, 1998

WALLINGFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Margaret Hoffman rolled her wheelchair right in front of the big-screen TV long before lift-off on Thursday. She wasn’t going to miss a thing.

As the space shuttle Discovery and John Glenn, the world’s oldest astronaut, tore into the sky, she and more than 100 other seniors at the Masonic Geriatric Healthcare Center in Wallingford burst into applause.

``God bless him!″ said Hoffman, 83, tears trickling down her cheeks. ``This guy’s got everything in him that America needs.″

From New Jersey to New Orleans, seniors beamed with pride as the 77-year-old Glenn returned to space, 36 years after the historic trip when he became the first American in orbit.

Thousands gathered in senior citizen centers, in nursing homes, in senior apartment complexes or in small groups at home.

``I think he’s doing it for us, for senior citizens,″ said Adelaide Samuelson, 91, watching at the Masonic center. ``He is showing what we can do. We’re not all sitting around doing nothing.″

Discovery’s nine-day mission will concentrate on science. Glenn, one of seven astronauts, will participate in 10 experiments on the effects of weightlessness on the human body and how those effects might relate to aging on Earth.

Horace ``Tex″ Weaver, 71, figured Glenn’s second historic flight might even help people on Earth _ or at least the U.S. _ relate a little bit better to people farther along the aging experience.

``Nowadays, the older American is nothing but a doorstop,″ said Weaver, who joined a few friends in the Dallas suburb of Carrollton to watch the liftoff. ``It’s time to break out of that image.″

Many thought back to who and where they were during Glenn’s 1962 Mercury launch.

Alan Pietrowski, an aerospace worker at Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power in 1962, gathered with other retired workers at company offices in the San Fernando Valley in California.

Pietrowski remembered 150 workers crowding into a company cafeteria to watch the Mercury liftoff on a small black-and-white television. ``It was electric,″ he said. ``Everyone was holding their breath in those days.″

This time around, he watched the launch in a conference room with a big-screen color TV.

Richard Dufty, 80, a retired electrical engineer who lives in the Leisure Village East senior citizen community in Lakewood, N.J., said Glenn struck a blow for all seniors who might be barred from certain activities, such as driving a car.

``If he wants to, and he can handle it, there’s nothing he should be banned from doing,″ Dufty said.