Astronaut Scott Carpenter, original member of the Mercury 7, has died at the age of 88. He was the second American to orbit the Earth, and the fourth American in space. Mr. Carpenter provided America’s space program with one of its most memorable quotes, saying “Godspeed, John Glenn” to his friend during the countdown to the first orbital blastoff. He was also the only astronaut who went on to become an aquanaut.
Mr. Carpenter grew up in Boulder, Colorado, joining the V-12 Navy College Training Program during World War II. After the war ended he returned to Colorado to study aeronautical engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He was chosen for Project Mercury in 1959, and flew into space on May 24, 1962 in the Aurora 7.
He not only identified the “fireflies,” first observed by John Glenn, as frozen particles generated by heat within the capsule, but also became the first American to eat solid food in space. Carpenter had to reenter orbit manually, and overshot his landing target by 250 miles. It took the National Guard nearly an hour to locate him, and several nerve-racking hours to retrieve his raft. Carpenter never returned to space; after an injury made him ineligible for spaceflight, he resigned from NASA in 1967. He spent much of the 1960s working with the Navy’s SEALAB project, including living on the ocean floor off California for nearly a month in the SEALAB II. After retiring from the Navy he founded Sea Sciences, Inc., which worked to harvest ocean resources in environmentally conscious ways.
During his life he earned prestigious awards including the Navy Astronaut Badge, the Navy’s Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal, and the Academy of Underwater Arts & Sciences 1995 NOGI Award for Distinguished Service. He also wrote a memoir, For Spacious Skies: The Uncommon Journey of a Mercury Astronaut, and two novels, The Steel Albatross and Deep Flight.
He later said that his fear during liftoff fell away upon reaching orbit, and that the combination of silence, weightlessness, and the view of “Mother Earth” became addictive. Carpenter and his many accomplishments remain an inspiring example of the spirit of adventure, and courage in the face of the unknown—as he once said, “Conquering of fear is one of life’s greatest pleasures and it can be done a lot of different places.”