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Scott Carpenter, One Of The Original Seven NASA Astronauts, Dies

October 11, 2013
Image Caption: Portrait of Astronaut Scott Carpenter taken October 22, 1964. Credit: NASA

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Malcolm Scott Carpenter, one of the original seven astronauts to go into space, has died at the age of 88. His death leaves John H. Glenn Jr. as the sole surviving member of NASA’s first class of astronauts.

Carpenter’s wife Patty, announced the death but had given no cause. It was known that he entered hospice care recently after suffering a stroke. A NASA statement said he died from complications due to stroke.

“We have lost a true pioneer. I shall long remember him not only for his smarts and courage but his incredible humor. He kept us all grounded,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. “We will miss him greatly.”

EARLY LIFE

Carpenter was born on May 1, 1925 in Boulder, Colorado and moved to NYC with his parents for the first two years of his life. In 1927, he returned to Boulder with his mother, who was ill with tuberculosis at the time. He was raised by his maternal grandparents until his graduation from Boulder High School in 1943.

After graduation, Carpenter was accepted into the V-12 Navy College Training Program as an aviation cadet, where he trained until the end of World War II. He was released from active duty when the war ended. He returned to Boulder in November 1945 to study aeronautical engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In his senior year, he missed the final exam in heat transfer and failed to get his degree. However, the university granted him his degree after his NASA Mercury flight in 1962.

Carpenter was recruited into the United States Navy’s Direct Procurement Program (DPP) on the eve of the Korean War. He reported to Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida in the fall of 1949 for pre-flight training and primary flight training. He earned his aviator wings on April 19, 1951, in Corpus Christi, Texas. In his first deployment, Carpenter flew Lockheed P2V Neptunes for Patrol Squadron Six on reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare missions during the Korean War. He then flew surveillance missions along the Soviet and Chinese coasts during his second deployment. He was subsequently placed with his squadron in Guam during his third deployment.

In 1954, Carpenter was appointed to the US Naval Test Pilot School in Maryland, where he continued his work as a test pilot until 1957, when he was transferred to the Navy Line School for his next tour of duty. In 1958, Carpenter was named Air Intelligence Officer for the USS Hornet.

NASA MISSIONS

On April 9, 1959, Carpenter was selected by NASA for Project Mercury and became one of the first seven astronauts to be recruited by the space agency. In February 1962, he served as a backup pilot for John Glenn, who flew the first US orbital mission aboard Friendship 7. When Deke Slayton was withdrawn from Project Mercury’s second orbital mission due to medical issues, Carpenter was selected as a replacement. That flight would be titled Delta 7.

Carpenter flew into space on May 24, 1962, atop a Mercury-Atlas 7 rocket for a three-orbit science mission that lasted about five hours. His Aurora 7 spacecraft attained a maximum altitude of 164 miles and an orbital velocity of 17,532 miles per hour. Of interesting note, it has been claimed that the naming of Carpenter’s spacecraft, Aurora 7, came from the location of his childhood home, on the corner of Aurora and Seventh Street. However, Carpenter has denied this.

During Carpenter’s return to Earth after the orbital mission, his spacecraft overshot its landing target by nearly 250 nautical miles, which gave rise to fears about his fate. However, once Lieutenant Commander Carpenter splashed down off Puerto Rico, he had fulfilled a lifelong dream.

“I volunteered for a number of reasons,” he wrote in “We Seven,” a book of reflections by the original astronauts published in 1962. “One of these, quite frankly, was that I thought this was a chance for immortality. Pioneering in space was something I would willingly give my life for.”

But for 39 long minutes after his spacecraft landed in the open seas, NASA was fearful that he actually had perished. Although radar and radio signals indicated that the capsule survived reentry, it was not immediately clear that Carpenter was safe. When a Navy search plane made it to the site, it became evident that Carpenter was safe after he was spotted in a bright orange life raft. It would be three more hours before he could be airlifted by helicopter and taken to the aircraft carrier Intrepid.

Carpenter became the fourth American to fly into space. Alan B. Shepard Jr. and Virgil “Gus” Grissom were the first, followed by Glenn. Carpenter was also the sixth person to fly into space, as two Russians had also preceded him, including Yuri Gagarin, who made history as the first person to ever go to space.

Commander Carpenter and his family were greeted by President John F. Kennedy at the White House in June 1962 after a series of parades and a ceremonial honoring at City Hall in New York.

It was later determined that Carpenter’s close brush with disaster, when his capsule overshot the landing by 250 miles, was because of a 25-degree error in the capsule’s alignment due to the retro rockets firing at an angle that caused a shallower descent than anticipated. That accounted for 175 miles of overshot, followed by an additional 75 miles caused by late firing of the rockets and failure to provide the correct thrust.

Carpenter’s hopes and dreams of returning to space were ended when he was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him with injuries.

Carpenter was later portrayed by Actor Charles Frank in the movie, “The Right Stuff,” based on the book of the same name, published in 1979 and authored by Tom Wolfe. The movie debuted in 1983.

INNER SPACE & BEYOND

After his time as a NASA astronaut, Carpenter went on to explorations of the deep sea. He explored underwater environments as an aquanaut for the Navy’s ‘Man in the Sea Project.’ During his time with the project, he spent one 30-day mission living continuouslyon the ocean floor. He later served as director of the Navy’s aquanaut operations.

“I still can’t make up my mind whether I like outer or inner space better,” Carpenter said in a 2012 interview, as cited by CNN. “But there’s a difference in glory.”

Carpenter left NASA in 1967 and retired from the Navy in 1969 with the rank of commander and went on to pursue oceanographic and environmental activities. In addition, he has written two novels based on underwater adventures.

During his life, Carpenter received many honors and awards, including Navy Astronaut Wings, Navy’s Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, NASA Distinguished Service Medal, University of Colorado Recognition Medal, Collier Trophy, NYC Gold Medal of Honor, Elisha Kent Kane Medal, Ustica Gold Trident, Boy Scouts of America Silver Buffalo Award and the Academy of Underwater Arts & Sciences 1995 NOGI Award for Distinguished Service.

Scott Carpenter Park and Pool in Boulder, Colorado was dedicated to Carpenter in 1962. The Aurora 7 Elementary School, also in Boulder, was named after his spacecraft. Also, his middle school in Westminster, Colorado was named after him, as was an elementary school in Old Bridge, New Jersey. The Scott Caprenter Space Analog Station was placed on the ocean floor in 1997 and 1998, named in honor of Carpenter’s SEALAB work in the 1960s.

With Carpenter’s death, Glenn is the sole surviving member of the original Mercury 7, which included Carpenter, Glenn, L. Gordon Cooper Jr., Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Walter Schirra Jr., Alan B. Shepard and Donald “Deke” Slayton.

Grissom died in 1967 in an Apollo spacecraft fire during a launch-pad test. Slayton died in 1993, Shepard died in 1998, Cooper died in 2004 and Schirra died in 2007.

“He was one of the good guys and a good friend, a pioneer who made significant contributions to our country,” said Dick Gordon. Gordon was command module pilot for Apollo 12.

ON A PERSONAL NOTE

Patty was Mr. Carpenter’s fourth wife. His first three marriages had all ended in divorce. Along with Patty, he is survived by four sons, two daughters, a granddaughter and five step-grandchildren. He is predeceased by two sons, Timothy and Scott.


Source: Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online