John Glenn's Roach Motel

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.: You can understand what John Glenn means when he says -- repeatedly -- that there are more important things to pay attention to on the upcoming shuttle mission than a lowly payload specialist such as himself. For example, Glenn is going to have some skittish houseguests to take care of after Thursday's blastoff: three casefuls of large, brown, southern-style cockroaches. The nose-wrinkling experiment belongs to a Maryland high school, who are paying the bugs' round-trip ticket to discover whether zero gravity throws off cockroach reproductive skills.

Such 12th-grade science is all very well, but Glenn and his fellow humans will be forgiven a few twinges of disgust and fear at the presence of the roach-o-nauts. It's less than two years since the embattled space station Mir was plagued by the presence of a single floating cockroach -- which, not surprisingly, came aboard by accident. NASA moved to calm fears Monday: "They won't be infesting space," laughed payload coordinator Rud Moe. It is, after all, worth $5,000 to the agency if the bugs check in and check out. All the same, perhaps the 77-year-old senator should remember to pack an emergency can of Raid.