Mercury 7 Astronaut Scott Carpenter Dies

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WASHINGTON — Scott Carpenter, the fourth U.S. astronaut to fly in space and the second to orbit Earth, died Oct. 10 after suffering a recent stroke. He was 88.

The original Mercury 7 astronaut was being cared for at a hospice center in Denver when he died. Carpenter was initially expected to make a full recovery from the stroke.

“Today, the world mourns the passing of Scott Carpenter,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “As one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, he was in the first vanguard of our space program — the pioneers who set the tone for our nation’s pioneering efforts beyond Earth.”

“His accomplishments truly helped our nation progress in space from the earliest days to the world leadership we enjoy today,” Bolden said. “We will miss his passion, his talent and his lifelong commitment to exploration.”

Chosen in 1959 among NASA’s first astronauts, Carpenter made his first and only spaceflight on May 24, 1962, when he became the sixth man worldwide to leave the planet.

During his Mercury-Atlas 7 mission, Carpenter circled the Earth three times, conducted some of the first astronaut science experiments, and consumed the first solid space food — small square cubes composed of chocolate, figs, and dates mixed with high-protein cereals.

“You have to realize my experience with zero-g, although transcending and more fun than I can tell you about, was, in the light of current space flight accomplishments, very brief,” Carpenter said in 1999 during a NASA oral history interview. “The zero-g sensation and the visual sensation of space flight are transcending experiences, and I wish everybody could have them.”

He splashed down aboard his “Aurora 7” capsule 4 hours and 56 minutes after his launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla. — and 400 kilometers off course. His overshot re-entry was the result of several spacecraft malfunctions, including the intermittent failure of attitude indicators and the retrorockets firing late and under thrust.

“I had the record for overshooting the target for a long time until some cosmonauts came along some years later and missed theirs by 1,500 miles,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter never flew in space again, the result of an injury to his left arm sustained in a motorcycle accident in 1964. He did, however, become an aquanaut, spending a record 30 days on the ocean floor aboard the Navy’s SEALAB II, an experimental habitat located off the coast of California.

Besides his own space and sea adventures, Carpenter is popularly remembered for his radio call “Godspeed, John Glenn,” which heralded his fellow Mercury astronaut’s liftoff to become the first American in orbit on Feb. 20, 1962. With Carpenter’s passing, Glenn is the last of the Mercury 7 astronauts alive today.

Carpenter is survived by his wife, Patty Barrett, and seven children, four from his first marriage, two from his second marriage and one from his third. He is also survived by two stepchildren, a granddaughter and five step-grandchildren.

Robert Z. Pearlman is editor of CollectSPACE.com. Used with permission.