John Glenn, the last survivor of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, died Thursday at age 95. His heroic career in space was followed by a long stint in the U.S. Senate. Glenn had been hospitalized in Columbus, Ohio, for more than a week.
Glenn appeared in Sacramento in September 2000 before more than 3,000 people at Perspectives 2000, an annual speakers symposium sponsored by the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Also appearing that day: Condoleezza Rice, then the foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; ex-White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta; former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and broadcasting icon Walter Cronkite.
Here is at The Sacramento Bee report, published Sept. 23, 2000, on Glenn from that daylong event at the Sacramento Community Convention Center:
Glenn, whose memorable space shuttle flight in 1998 at age 77 made him the oldest person in space, regaled the audience with tales of his mission and came armed with a NASA home movie of him and his colleagues in orbit.
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He poked fun at his senior status, saying it wasn't true that NASA refused to allow him to walk in space "because they were afraid I would wander off somewhere." He said the shuttle mission also proved that someone his age could "leave Florida in something other than a Winnebago."
He told of the oddities of space travel. Sunsets and sunrises are witnessed at 18 times normal speed from the shuttle, he said, and are seen in the full spectrum of color - red, orange, blue, green, indigo and violet - due to the prism provided by the earth's atmosphere.
His video showed the effects of weightlessness on the crew, the chain-mail of monitoring devices in which he was draped for research and the utility of specially designed sudless soap.
Glenn, who served for 24 years as senator from Ohio, said his shuttle experience and his life in politics have left him more concerned than ever about the importance of education, particularly in the fields of math and science. At the request of U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, Glenn has headed a commission that will report next week on the progress of American students in those critical areas in a period of globalization.
"This time we live in is akin to the Industrial Revolution," Glenn said. "The question is whether all the new jobs out there will be for our kids."
He also said he was dismayed by "the cynicism and apathy toward anything to do with government and politics." Unless that trend is reversed, he said, the country is in danger of "drifting back toward an oligarchy where fewer and fewer people make the decisions for the rest of us."