Friday, October 11, 2013

Godspeed, Scott Carpenter

Yesterday, Scott Carpenter, an icon in the early days of space exploration passed. He was one of only two of the original seven astronauts. The Original 7 as they were known, were the Mercury astronauts that would be the first Americans to go into the heavens. 

In the early days of spaceflight, the Original 7 were a competitive group of test pilots and elite armed forces pilots. This group thrived on competition, whether it was drag racing their Corvettes on a deserted road in Florida or in the hotspots and nightclubs of Cocoa Beach. Scott Carpenter was one of them. The Original 7 enjoyed rock star status in the 1960's.

According to Carpenter, there were only two reasons to do things in life—to overcome a fear, or to satisfy a curiosity. He displayed this attitude throughout his life. He has the unique distinction of being the only astronaut to explore both the heavens above and the oceans below. 

His career in space lasted just four and a half hours, after which he declared that everyone should have an opportunity to go to space and experience weightlessness. He never flew in space again. Some blame him for missing his landing spot by 250 miles by firing a retro rocket three seconds late. Others declare him a hero for manually re-entering the atmosphere, using visuals when the navigation system went out. 

According to a letter that Carpenter sent to the New York Times in 2001, he stated, "the system failures I encountered during flight would have resulted in loss of the capsule and total mission failure had a man not been aboard."

Amid controversy, Carpenter turned to the oceans, spending a month undersea in the Navy Sealab project, becoming the only astronaut to become an aquanaut. 

Scott Carpenter
Scott Carpenter Source, NASA
However, most will remember him from his historic spaceflight in 1962. Many thought that he was lost, including Walter Cronkite, who expressed his concern as the nation watched the search and rescue operation. In grand American hero style, the recovery team found him, relaxed in his life raft, legs up on the transom, smoking a cigar.

Now the sole surviving Original 7 is John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth. As the backup to Glenn on that historic flight, Carpenter called the launch from Cape Canaveral, uttering the phrase, "Godspeed, John Glenn." Since that moment, 'Godspeed' has become a constant in space flight vernacular. 

So, it's only fitting to conclude with, "Godspeed, Scott Carpenter."  


  1. One has to wonder if we still have the 'right stuff' like these guys did.

    1. It was a different era, for sure. There's talk that we can't do a manned Mars mission because the radiation exposure levels would exceed OSHA standards for the duration of the trip ... where would we be today if we didn't explore.