SCOTT CARPENTER, THE second American to orbit the Earth, was guided by two instincts: overcoming fear and quenching his insatiable curiosity.
He pioneered his way into the heights of space and the depths of the ocean floor.
His wife, Patty Barrett, said Carpenter died in a Denver hospice of complications from a September stroke. He lived in Vail.
“We’re going to miss him,” she said.
File photo of Carpenter in 2012. Pic: AP Photo/Michael Brown, File
Carpenter followed John Glenn into orbit, and it was Carpenter who gave him the historic send-off: “Godspeed John Glenn.” The two were the last survivors of the famed original Mercury 7 astronauts from the “Right Stuff” days of the early 1960s. Glenn is the only one left alive.
He was the only person who was both an astronaut and an aquanaut, exploring the old ocean and what President John F Kennedy called “the new ocean” – space.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that Carpenter:
was in the vanguard of our space program — the pioneers who set the tone for our nation’s pioneering efforts beyond Earth and accomplished so much for our nation. … We will miss his passion, his talent and his lifelong commitment to exploration.
The launch into space was nerve-racking for the Navy pilot on the morning of May 24, 1962.
For the veteran Navy officer, flying in space or diving to the ocean floor was more than a calling.
In 1959, soon after being chosen one of NASA’s pioneering seven astronauts, Carpenter wrote about his hopes, concluding: “This is something I would willingly give my life for.”
Carpenter said astronauts in the Mercury program found most of their motivation from the space race with the Russians. When he completed his orbit of the Earth, he said he thought: “Hooray, we’re tied with the Soviets,” who had completed two manned orbits at that time.
Things started to go wrong on re-entry. He was low on fuel and a key instrument that tells the pilot which way the capsule is pointing malfunctioned, forcing Carpenter to manually take over control of the landing.
NASA’s Mission Control then announced that he would overshoot his landing zone by more than 200 miles and, worse, they had lost contact with him.
Talking to a suddenly solemn nation, CBS newsman Walter Cronkite said, “We may have … lost an astronaut.”
Carpenter survived the landing that day.
In this May 24, 1962 file photo provided by NASA, astronaut Scott Carpenter gestures with one hand after donning his space suit in Hangar S prior to being shot into orbit at Cape Canaveral. Pic: AP photo/NASA, File
Always cool under pressure — his heart rate never went above 105 during the flight — he oriented himself by simply peering out the space capsule’s window. The Navy found him in the Caribbean, floating in his life raft with his feet propped up.
Carpenter’s perceived nonchalance didn’t sit well some with NASA officials, particularly flight director Chris Kraft. The two feuded about it from then on.
On his website, Carpenter acknowledged that he didn’t shut off a switch at the right time, doubling fuel loss. Still, Carpenter in his 2003 memoir said, “I think the data shows that the machine failed.”
One of 110 candidates to be the nation’s first astronauts, Carpenter became an instant celebrity in 1958 when he was chosen as a Mercury astronaut.
Carpenter never did go back in space, but his explorations continued. In 1965, he spent 30 days under the ocean off the coast of California as part of the Navy’s SeaLab II program.
Carpenter in 1967. Pic: AP Photo/Camerano, file
Malcolm Scott Carpenter was born May 1, 1925, in Boulder, Colorado.
He attended the University of Colorado for one semester, joined the Navy during World War II, and returned to school but didn’t graduate because he flunked out of a class on heat transfer his senior year.
He rejoined the Navy in 1949 and was a fighter and test pilot in the Pacific and served as intelligence officer.
He married four times and had seven children; a daughter helped him write his memoir, “For Spacious Skies: The Uncommon Journey of a Mercury Astronaut.” He also wrote two novels: “The Steel Albatross” and “Deep Flight.”
He earned numerous awards and honorary degrees. Carpenter said that he joined the Mercury program for many reasons: “One of them, quite frankly, is that it is a chance for immortality. Most men never have a chance for immortality.”