Saturday, October 12, 2013

Farewell, Scott Carpenter

Astronaut Carpenter after recovery from splashdown on mission MA-7.

Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter died this week at age 88. He had recently suffered a stroke and although it was thought he would recover, his health worsened. He is most famously remembered for his Mercury space flight on May 24, 1962 in the Space capsule Aurora 7 (MA-7). The second American to orbit the Earth, he flew for just under 5 hours testing the spacecraft and helping to identify the mysterious "fireflies" reported by John Glenn on mission MA-6 (for which Carpenter was the backup pilot).

Test pilot Carpenter with the F-106B.

Carpenter became a Navy pilot after WW2, eventually flying Navy surveillance aircraft during the Korean War. After the war, he became a Navy test pilot until his appointment as one of the "Mercury Seven" original astronaut selection. 

Liftoff of the MA-7 Mercury-Atlas rocket from Launch Complex LC-14, Cape Canaveral, Florida.

There was a bit of controversy from Carpenter's Mercury mission. DUe to a problem with the Pitch Horizon Scanner, maneuvering the capsule required extra work and Carpenter had to cope with a manual re-entry situation. Because of the PHS problem and fuel waste, Carpenter's spacecraft overshot the selected landing point by 250 miles. Mission Control Director Chris Kraft blamed Carpenter for the problem although NASA later identified it. Carpenter was kept off flight assignments though. He took a leave of absence for a short assignment with the SEALAB underwater base station project, and before he came back to a NASA assignment he was involved in a Motorbike accident. The injury to his arm was never properly corrected and he was grounded from flying. He continued to work with NASA though, training astronauts using the underwater training simulators. He continued to be a vocal proponent of the space program until even very recently. He later founded Sea Sciences Inc., developing programs for using our oceanic resources and protecting the ocean environment.

Official NASA Portrait. 

I'm very fortunate to have Scott Carpenter's autograph. I'm proud of his commitment to human spaceflight and his willingness to be vocal when things have not gone right with our government's handling of the space program. With his passing, John Glenn now becomes the last survivor of the Mercury Space Program, more than 50 years after its completion.

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