77-year-old senator returns to space amid Hollywood fanfare

Need confirmation that John Glenn is pop culture’s latest sensation? Roger this: The small nebula of stars who jetted into Cape Canaveral to witness the 77-year-old senator’s Oct. 29 return to space could have made up the guest list for a top-shelf Hollywood bash. Among them: Leonardo DiCaprio, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Liv Tyler, and James Cameron. ”Glenn is a bona fide hero,” says Cameron, ”someone you don’t have to qualify, someone who’s not boinking the intern.”

And plenty of other signs of Glenn mania abound. Back in Orbit, a Longstreet Press book about the mission, hits stores Dec. 14. MPI Home Video’s John Glenn — An American Legend is due Nov. 24. And Mattel’s Hot Wheels John Glenn Action Pack arrives this month. ”They’re for kids, but adults have been [interested] because they’re linked to a piece of history,” says Mattel’s Sara Rosales.

Predictably, Hollywood is jumping on the space bandwagon. On CBS’ Chicago Hope, Christine Lahti’s surgeon has begun training for a shuttle mission. Showtime’s The Outer Limits shoots an episode this week (slated for early ’99) about a 63-year-old astronaut who returns to space. Due next year: New Line’s The Astronaut’s Wife, starring Johnny Depp, and Universal’s October Sky, based on the life of NASA rocket scientist Homer Hickman. Meanwhile in development is Disney’s Mission to Mars, in which the first landing on the Red Planet ends in disaster. Says Mars producer Tom Jacobson, who was at the launch, ”I totally got caught up in that Right Stuff, can-do spirit, this sense that exploring space comes out of mankind’s nature to advance the species.” That, and an opportunity to sell a ”Godspeed, John Glenn” bumper sticker.