Remembering Gordon Cooper 50 Years After Mercury Mission
May 14, 2013

The Right Stuff: Gordon Cooper Remembered 50 Years After Mercury Mission

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

May 15 marks the 50th anniversary of the first American to ever experience what it is like to sleep weightlessly.

Astronaut Gordon Cooper launched aboard the final Mercury mission May 15, 1963, logging in more time in space than all the previous Mercury astronauts combined. He flew the Faith 7 spacecraft around the Earth 22 times and logged in over 34 hours in space. Mercury was America's first human space flight program. It included a total flight time of 53 hours, 55 minutes and 27 seconds .

Gordon's primary objective during the sixth Mercury mission was to evaluate the effects of a lengthier stay in space on man. He became the first American astronaut to sleep in orbit. Before this mission, the longest any American had stayed in space was 9 hours, 13 minutes, 11 seconds.

He wore a modified version of a US Navy High altitude jet aircraft pressure suit during this mission. The suit featured an inner layer of Neoprene-coated nylon and an outer layer of aluminized nylon. Cooper flew aboard an Atlas Rocket to reach orbit inside his Faith 7 capsule.

After piloting the final Mercury mission, Cooper commanded Gemini 5, which helped establish a new space endurance record of 190 hours and 56 minutes. During this mission, he became the first man to make a second orbital flight. Cooper and Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr were able to prove that man was capable of surviving in space long enough to perform a lunar mission. During Gemini 5, the two experienced a number of problems with power systems, thruster fuel and venting gas that caused the spacecraft to roll. However, none of these problems ended the mission early.

Cooper retired from the Air Force as a colonel on July 31, 1970, and became vice president for research and development for Walter E. Disney Enterprises of Glendale, California back in 1975. This facility was the research and development subsidiary of Walt Disney Productions.

Cooper died on October 5, 2004 in his home in Ventura, California at the age of 77-years-old.

“As one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, Gordon Cooper was one of the faces of America´s fledgling space program. He truly portrayed the right stuff, and he helped gain the backing and enthusiasm of the American public, so critical for the spirit of exploration. My thoughts and prayers are with Gordon´s family during this difficult time,” NASA Administrator Sean O´Keefe said in 2004 after the announcement of Cooper's death.

“Cooper´s efforts and those of his fellow Mercury astronauts, Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton, serve as reminders of what drives us to explore. They also remind us that to succeed any vision for exploration needs the support of the American people.”