The Mercury Seven And Colorado’s First Astronaut

This group photo of the original Mercury astronauts was taken in June 1963 at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), now Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas. The astronauts are, left-to-right: Cooper, Schirra, Shepard, Grissom, Glenn, Slayton and Carpenter. Image Credit: NASA

This group photo of the original Mercury astronauts was taken in June 1963 at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), now Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas. The astronauts are, left-to-right: Cooper, Schirra, Shepard, Grissom, Glenn, Slayton and Carpenter. Image Credit: NASA

April 9, 2015 – On April 9, 1959, NASA’s first administrator, Dr. Keith Glennan, announced the names of the agency’s first group of astronauts at a news conference in Washington, D.C. The class of seven included Colorado’s first astronaut, M. Scott Carpenter.

Now known as the “Original Seven,” the class consisted of three Naval aviators, M. Scott Carpenter, Walter M. Schirra Jr., and Alan B. Shepard Jr.; three Air Force pilots, L. Gordon Cooper Jr., Virgil I. (Gus) Grissom, and Donald K. (Deke) Slayton; along with Marine Corps aviator John H. Glenn Jr.

Project Mercury became NASA’s first major undertaking. The objectives of the program were to place a human-rated spacecraft into orbit around Earth, observe the astronaut’s performance in such conditions and safely recover the astronaut and the spacecraft. The Mercury flights proved that humans could live and work in space, and paved the way for the Gemini and Apollo programs as well as for all further human spaceflight.

Carpenter was born in Boulder, Colorado, on May 1, 1925, and died on October 10, 2013. He attended the University of Colorado from 1945 to 1949 and received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

Commissioned in the U.S. Navy in 1949, he was given flight training at Pensacola, Florida, and Corpus Christi, Texas and designated a Naval Aviator in April, 1951. During the Korean War, he served with patrol Squadron Six, flying antisubmarine, ship surveillance, aerial mining and ferret missions in the Yellow Sea, South China Sea, and the Formosa Straits. He attended the Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland, in 1954 and was subsequently assigned to the Electronics Test Division of the Naval Air Test Center, also at Patuxent. In that assignment, he flew tests in every type of naval aircraft, including multi- and single-engine jet and propeller-driven fighters, attack planes, patrol bombers, transports and seaplanes.

From 1957 to 1959, he attended the Navy General Line School and the Navy Air Intelligence School and was then assigned as Air Intelligence Officer to the Aircraft Carrier, USS Hornet.

After his selection as one of the original Mercury Astronauts, Carpenter underwent intensive training with NASA, specializing in communication and navigation. He served as backup pilot for John Glenn during the preparation for America’s first manned orbital space flight in February 1962.

Carpenter flew the second American manned orbital flight on May 24, 1962. He piloted his Aurora 7 spacecraft through three revolutions of the Earth, reaching a maximum altitude of 164 miles. The spacecraft landed in the Atlantic Ocean about 1000 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral after 4 hours and 54 minutes of flight time.

On leave of absence from NASA, Carpenter participated in the Navy’s Man-in-the-Sea Project as an Aquanaut in the SEALAB II program off the coast of La Jolla, California, in the summer of 1965. During the 45-day experiment, Carpenter spent 30 days living and working on the ocean floor. He was team leader for two of the three 10-man teams of Navy and civilian divers who conducted deep-sea diving activities in a seafloor habitat at a depth of 205 feet.

He returned to duties with NASA as Executive Assistant to the Director of the Manned Spaceflight Center and was active in the design of the Apollo Lunar Landing Module and in underwater Extravehicular Activity (EVA) crew training.

In 1967, he returned to the Navy’s Deep Submergence Systems Project (DSSP) as Director of Aquanaut Operations during the SEALAB III experiment. (The DSSP office was responsible for directing the Navy’s Saturation Diving Program, which included development of deep-ocean search, rescue, salvage, ocean engineering and Man-in-the-Sea capabilities.)

Upon retirement from the Navy in 1969, after 25 years of service, Carpenter founded and was Chief Executive Officer of Sear Sciences, Inc., a venture capital corporation active in developing programs aimed at enhanced utilization of ocean resources and improved health of the planet. In pursuit of these and other objectives, he worked closely with the French oceanographer J.Y. Cousteau and members of his Calypso team. Carpenter dove in most of the world’s oceans, including the Arctic under ice.

Carpenter continued to apply his knowledge of aerospace and ocean engineering as a consultant to industry and the private sector. He lectured frequently in the U.S. and abroad on the history and future of ocean and space technology, the impact of scientific and technological advance on human affairs and man’s continuing search for excellence. An avid skier, he spent much of his free time on the slopes in his home of Vail, Colorado.

The Mercury Seven in 1960. Back row: Shepard, Grissom, Cooper; front row: Schirra, Slayton, Glenn, Carpenter. This was the only time they would appear together in pressure suits. Slayton and Glenn are wearing spray-painted work boots. Image Credit: NASA

The Mercury Seven in 1960. Back row: Shepard, Grissom, Cooper; front row: Schirra, Slayton, Glenn, Carpenter. This was the only time they would appear together in pressure suits. Slayton and Glenn are wearing spray-painted work boots. Image Credit: NASA