Interviews

Sen. Bill Nelson: What a role model John Glenn was

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," December 8, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: You know, there was another senator who was also an astronaut.

Bill Nelson joins us now from the fine state of Florida.

Senator, very good to have you.

SEN. BILL NELSON, D-FLA.: Thanks a lot, Neil.

CAVUTO: When you look back at your friend and colleague John Glenn, we always say -- and I was saying this as well, Senator -- that it hearkens back to a time that we were crazy optimistic and anything was possible. We just did it because we just wanted to do it.

NELSON: And what a role model he was.

Remember, the original seven, all of them gone now, John the last to go., I mean, they were on the lips of every American as we were in this great space race against the Soviet Union. They beat us into space with Sputnik.  Then they beat us into orbit with Yuri Gagarin.

CAVUTO: Sure.

NELSON: And 10 months later, we fly John Glenn, and they knew they had a 20 percent chance of the Atlas rocket not working. And John was on the orbit for seven orbits.

And then they got an indication that his heat shield was loose. And they decided to bring him back after the third orbit and, of course, not knowing if the heat shield was going to fall off on reentry and he would burn up.  And the last transmission as he went into the blackout period of the fiery heat of reentry, they could hear John humming "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

CAVUTO: Amazing.

I think it was John Glenn -- I hope I got the wording right -- I probably didn’t, Senator, so if you will indulge me -- that when I asked about death for those who died in space who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong spaceship, he said, well, there but by the grace of God go I.

And I was thinking of you, because I know you were a payload specialist in the ‘80s on the space shuttle Columbia, itself a vehicle that would years later explode in space returning to Earth.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: And did you think the same thing? It’s the fickle nature of technology, fate?

NELSON: Well, for those of us with a spiritual dimension, which included John Glenn, you have a different approach to it. Our flight early in the space shuttle program ended up being the most delayed and four scrubs on the pad.

CAVUTO: I remember, again and again and again. Had a lot of folks worried, like, what the heck?

NELSON: And then, 10 days after we landed on Earth, Challenger launches and blows up.

CAVUTO: That’s right.

NELSON: But the real pioneers, the real adventurers were the early guys.  We didn’t even know what was going to happen to the human body. We had sent up a chimpanzee, but we didn’t really know what it was going to be.

And Glenn was the first to orbit, and then all of that drama on reentry.  And, of course, he became the instant hero, so much that President Kennedy would not (AUDIO GAP) fly again, because he did not want to take a chance that this authentic American hero, who was such a role model, that he would be lost.

And, of course, as it turned out, it was years later under President Clinton that John then went and joined the space shuttle program and flew in that time. He had many, many orbits of the Earth, so that he could finally enjoy what he had blazed the trail for everybody else.

CAVUTO: That is well put, Senator.

I know this has got to be tough on you, a colleague and a friend. You had a great example as well. I want to thank you for taking the time.

NELSON: Thanks, Neil.

CAVUTO: All right.

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