Mercury 7 pilot Scott Carpenter has died in Colorado at the age of 88, sources report. Wife Patty Barrett said Carpenter had a stroke in September and died from complications in a Denver hospice. Born Malcolm Scott Carpenter in Boulder, Colorado, he served in the US Navy from 1949 and was a pilot during the Korean War.
Carpenter was the second American to orbit Earth in 1962. He was assigned as John Glenn’s backup for the first orbit mission and wished him “Godspeed,” as he lifted off for his mission. Glenn is now the sole survivor from the original Mercury 7 team from the 60s that helped further American interests in space during the Cold War. Glenn flew his mission on Feb 20, 1962 and later became a US Senator for Ohio and served in that capacity for nearly two decades.
Both men were among the seven original astronauts selected by NASA in response to the Soviet advances in space exploration in 1959.
Carpenter’s mission was to determine how humans would react to weightless conditions. During his mission he reportedly,” Didn’t have a minute to himself.” While in space, Carpenter had to keep track of his blood pressure among other vitals. He also had to keep the Aurora capsule on course and take celestial measurements for study back on Earth. Carpenter was handling so many tasks that NASA officials grew concerned when he fell behind schedule. He did manage to finish the proscribed flight plan however, and return to Earth safely.
He circled the planet three times before splashing down off Puerto Rico in May 1962. Carpenter’s landing was over 250 miles off course due to technical issues while in orbit. NASA later determined one of the rockets did not operate as it should during re-entry.
This was Carpenter’s first and last foray into space, taking just five hours to circumvent the planet. In his book We Seven Carpenter reflects upon his reasons for volunteering for the mission, writing, ”This was a chance for immortality. Pioneering in space was something I would …give my life for.”
Carpenter was the fourth man in space, behind Glenn, Russia’s Yuri Gagarin in April 1961 and American Alan Shepard in May the same year.
Unlike others on the Mercury 7 team, Carpenter was not a fighter pilot. He flew surveillance missions during the Korean War in multi-engine propeller planes, rather than jets. Carpenter was a former gymnast, known for his fitness and “space stirred his imagination,” wrote The Right Stuff author Tom Wolfe.
In a joint lecture 49 years after piloting the Aurora capsule, Carpenter gave a lecture with Glenn at the Smithsonian Institute. He recalls: “You’re looking out at a totally black sky (and) an altimeter reading of 90 thousand feet and realize you are going straight up.”
Carpenter never returned to space but joined the US Navy’s SeaLab II, spending 30 days under the ocean off the coast of California in 1965. He worked and lived as an aquanaut at a depth of 204feet underwater. After retirement, Carpenter founded his own undersea exploration company called Sea Sciences and worked closely with diver and researcher Jacques Cousteau.
Over his 88 years, Carpenter contributed during war and peace time to forwarding American interests both in space and under the sea. His experiences helped America grow as a nation and as an international power. He will be missed, and he will never be forgotten
Written by: Brandi Tasby