Scott Carpenter, 2nd astronaut in orbit, dies

2013-10-11 12:00
Astronaut Scott Carpenter has his space suit adjusted by a technician in Cape Canaveral. Carpenter, the second American to orbit the Earth and one of the last surviving original Mercury 7 astronauts. (AP, File)

Astronaut Scott Carpenter has his space suit adjusted by a technician in Cape Canaveral. Carpenter, the second American to orbit the Earth and one of the last surviving original Mercury 7 astronauts. (AP, File)

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Denver - 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.

"Conquering of fear is one of life's greatest pleasures and it can be done a lot of different places," he said.

His wife, Patty Barrett, said Carpenter died on Thursday at age 88 in a Denver hospice of complications from a September stroke. He lived in Vail.

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.

In his one flight, Carpenter missed his landing by 465km, leaving a nation on edge for an hour as it watched live and putting Carpenter on the outs with his Nasa bosses. So Carpenter found a new place to explore: The ocean floor.


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 on Thursday that Carpenter "was in the vanguard of our space programme - 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."

Life was an adventure for Carpenter and he said it should be for others: "Every child has got to seek his own destiny. All I can say is that I have had a great time seeking my own."

The launch into space was nerve-racking for the Navy pilot on the morning of 24 May 1962.

"You're looking out at a totally black sky, seeing an altimeter reading of 90 000 feet (27 432m) and realise you are going straight up. And the thought crossed my mind: 'What am I doing?'" Carpenter said 49 years later in a joint lecture with Glenn at the Smithsonian Institution.

For Carpenter, the momentary fear was worth it, he said in 2011: "The view of Mother Earth and the weightlessness is an addictive combination of senses."

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."


"Curiosity is a thread that goes through all of my activity," he told a Nasa historian in 1999. "Satisfying curiosity ranks No 2 in my book behind conquering a fear."

One of 110 candidates to be the nation's first astronauts, Carpenter became an instant celebrity in 1959 when he was chosen as a Mercury astronaut.

The Mercury 7 were Carpenter, Glenn, L Gordon Cooper jnr, Virgil I "Gus" Grissom, Walter M Schirra jnr, Alan B Shepard jnr, and Donald K "Deke" Slayton.

Like his colleagues, Carpenter basked in lavish attention and public rewards, but it wasn't exactly easy. The astronauts were subjected to gruelling medical tests - keeping their feet in cold water, rapid spinning and tumbling and open-ended psychological quizzes.

He had to endure forces 16 times gravity in his tests, far more than in space, something he said he managed with "great difficulty".

"It was the most exciting period of my life," he said.
Read more on:    nasa  |  space

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