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Wednesday, October 28, 1998

'It's special' -- Glenn excitement touches even astronaut enclave

By PAULINE ARRILLAGA -- The Associated Press

 WEBSTER, Texas (AP) -- Not so long ago, returning astronauts would race to The Outpost Tavern to be the first to drain that long-anticipated beer. Some still come in before missions, order a brew and, for luck, keep the tab running until they get back.

 These days they're hoisting more than a few for John Glenn -- a relic of the early days who is making a triumphant return to space.

 "Everybody's real excited about it because it's something that's never been done before," said bartender Stephanie Tomek, whose mother owns the barracks-turned-tavern, a mile from Johnson Space Center on NASA Road 1. "That he, after all these years, loves the program so much and wants to be a part of it again ... a lot of people around here think that's real admirable.

 "It's not just another mission," she said. "It's special."

 Her neighbors in this southeast Houston enclave couldn't agree more. NASA is the area's main employer; astronauts aren't unusual here -- they're just neighbors.

 "Our kids go to school with their kids and we shop with them in the grocery stores and they're our friends and our neighbors. But it is still exciting for us," said Claudette Alderman, president of the local Chamber of Commerce.

 The Glenn hoopla is hard to miss. A few weeks ago, NASA Road 1 was unofficially renamed John Glenn Parkway and red, white and blue banners featuring a photograph of the elderly astronaut were erected along the road.

 The Webster City Council approved the name change, which will stay in place until Glenn and his crewmates return from their nine-day mission, set to begin Thursday.

 At Space Center Houston, the visitors' complex for Johnson Space Center, a new exhibit entitled "Godspeed Again, John Glenn!" was unveiled this month.

 The exhibit features dozens of mementos from Glenn's public and private life, including the stopwatch he wore in 1962 when he became the first American to orbit the Earth, and the trumpet he played while growing up in Ohio.

 Just down the road, Cindy and Randy Hector also have begun planning for launch day. Earlier this week they had cable installed at their shop, Space Center Souvenirs, so they can watch blastoff while peddling Glenn merchandise.

 The big seller so far? A baby blue commemorative patch illustrating both of Glenn's historic missions. Said Hector: "He should be able to ride on any flight he wants to go on."

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