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Scott Carpenter, 1925-2013
October 17, 2013

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Former astronaut Scott Carpenter, the second American in orbit, died Oct. 10, 2013. As one of the original Mercury astronauts, Carpenter "was in the first 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," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said shortly after Carpenter's death.

Carpenter's Aurora 7 capsule circled the Earth three times on May 24, 1962, during its 4-hour, 54-minute flight.

Three years later, on a leave of absence from NASA, Carpenter was an Aquanaut in the Navy's Man-in-the-Sea program. During the summer of 1965 he spent 30 days living and working in a sea-floor habitat 205 feet below the surface.

He was the only American who served as both an Astronaut and an Aquanaut.

He also was a believer in the human imperative to explore. "It's inevitable that we'll get to Mars," he told a reporter when he was 73. "I have an abiding faith in human curiosity."

Malcolm Scott Carpenter was born in Boulder, Colo., May 1, 1925. He earned a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Colorado in 1949.

He was commissioned in the Navy in 1949. He completed flight training in Pensacola, Fla., and Corpus Christi, Texas, and was designated a Naval aviator in 1951.

During the Korean War he flew antisubmarine, ship surveillance and aerial mining missions in the Yellow Sea, the South China Sea and the Formosa Straits.

Interactive Feature: Aurora 7

Carpenter Image Gallery

He attended Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Md., and then was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center. He flew a variety of naval aircraft in that assignment, including single- and multi-engine jets, propeller-driven fighters, attack planes, patrol bombers, transports and seaplanes.

From 1957 to 1959 Carpenter attended Navy General Line School and the Navy Air Intelligence School. He was then assigned as air intelligence officer to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet.

After his selection as an astronaut, he specialized in spacecraft communication and navigation. He was backup pilot to John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.

Carpenter's flight in the Aurora 7 capsule was challenging. Fuel for maneuvering thrusters ran so low that mission control almost ended the flight after two orbits, instead of allowing it to continue for the scheduled three.
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The firing of the capsule’s retrorockets was late and Aurora 7 landed 250 miles farther downrange than planned. For more than 30 minutes, the capsule was lost and people around the world following the flight on radio and television waited in suspense. Finally a recovery plane followed a homing beacon to the floating capsule.

During his subsequent leave of absence from the space agency, Carpenter was an Aquanaut in the Sealab II program off La Jolla, Calif. It was a 45-day experiment and he spent 30 of those days living and working on the seabottom. He commanded two of the three 10-man teams of Navy and civilian divers based in the habitat.

Back at NASA, he became executive assistant to the director of the Manned Spacecraft Center (now the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center). He helped design the Apollo Lunar Landing Module and was active in underwater training of astronauts for spacewalks.

Carpenter left NASA in 1967 and returned to the Navy as director of Aquanaut Operations. He retired from the service in 1969.

Aerospace and the sea remained focuses of his life. He founded Sear Sciences Inc., a venture capital company aimed at developing ocean resources and improving the environmental health of the planet.

He continued to act as a consultant in aerospace and ocean engineering and lectured in those areas. He served on the boards of several corporations. He also wrote two novels. The first, The Steel Albatross, was dubbed an "underwater techno-thriller."

For many years he lived in Vail, Colo. He was an avid skier. He also maintained a home in Manhattan, N.Y.

His awards included the Navy Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal, the University of Colorado Recognition Medal and the Collier trophy.

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A video feature on the 50th anniversary of Carpenter's Mercury flight in the Aurora 7 capsule.
Image Credit: 
NASA Television
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Carpenter at the Mercury Control Center in Florida.
Carpenter at the Mercury Control Center in Florida.
Image Credit: 
NASA
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Liftoff of Mercury-Atlas 7 on May 24, 1962
Liftoff of Mercury-Atlas 7 on May 24, 1962
Image Credit: 
NASA
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Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter, the second American in orbit.
Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter, the second American in orbit.
Image Credit: 
NASA
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Page Last Updated: October 17th, 2013
Page Editor: Steve Fox