Cooper, Gordon

Gordon Cooper was an American engineer and astronaut, and was the first American to sleep in orbit. He was born Leroy Gordon Cooper, Jr. on March 6, 1927 in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He was active in the Boy Scouts of America and achieved the second highest rank of Life Scout. He attended the University of Hawaii and completed three years of coursework before he received an Army commission. Cooper met his first wife Trudy and married her in 1947. Together they had two children, Camala and Janita. Cooper transferred his commission to the Air Force in 1949 and was placed on active duty, during which he received flight training at Perrin Air Force Base in Texas and Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. His first flight assignment came in 1950 in Landstuhl, West Germany, where he flew for four years and attended the European Extension of the University of Maryland. He returned to the United States in 1955 and earned his bachelor’s degree two years later from the Air Force Institute of Technology in Ohio. Cooper was then assigned to the Experimental Flight Test School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He logged more than 7,000 hours of flight time, flying commercial aviation, general planes, and helicopters.

While at Edwards, Cooper was called to Washington, D.C. for a NASA briefing on Project Mercury, and was selected as the youngest of the first seven American astronauts. He specialized in the Redstone rocket and served as capcom for Freedom 7 and Aurora 7. He was also backup pilot for Sigma 7. Finally, on May 15, 1963, Cooper was launched into space aboard the Faith 7 spacecraft, the last Mercury mission. He orbited the Earth 22 times and logged more time in space than all five previous Mercury astronauts combined ““ 34 hours, 19 minutes and 49 seconds. He was the first American astronaut to sleep not only in orbit but on the launch pad during a countdown. Towards the end of the Faith 7 flight, the capsule had a power failure. The carbon dioxide levels began rising and the cabin temperature jumped to over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Cooper took manual control and successfully anticipated the correct pitch for re-entry into the atmosphere. Two years later, on August 21, 1965, Cooper flew as command pilot of Gemini 5 alongside Pete Conrad. Cooper was the first astronaut to make a second orbital flight. He later served as backup command pilot for Gemini 12 and Apollo 10. He received an honorary doctorate of science degree from Oklahoma State University in 1967, and retired from NASA and the Air Force on July 31, 1970 as a colonel.

After leaving NASA, Cooper served on many corporate boards and consulted several companies, including The Walt Disney Company, where he was a vice-president of research and development for Epcot. In 1972, after divorcing his first wife, Cooper married Suzan Taylor, with whom he had two more children, Elizabeth and Colleen. Cooper developed Parkinson’s disease and died from heart failure on October 4, 2004. His ashes were launched on two separate sub-orbital memorial flights. Also, Gordon Cooper Technology Center in Shawnee, Oklahoma was named after him.