Scott Carpenter, 88, pioneering astronaut, dies
DENVER - M. 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 Mr. Carpenter, 88, of Vail, died in a Denver hospice of complications from a September stroke.
Mr. Carpenter followed John Glenn into orbit, and it was Mr. Carpenter who gave him the historic send-off: "Godspeed, John Glenn."
Glenn, a former senator from Ohio, now is the last survivor of the original Mercury 7 astronauts from the "Right Stuff" days of the early 1960s.
In his one flight, Mr. Carpenter missed his landing by 288 miles, leaving a nation on edge for an hour as it watched live and putting Mr. Carpenter on the outs with his NASA bosses. So Mr. 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 Mr. Carpenter "was in the 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. . . . We will miss his passion, his talent and his lifelong commitment to exploration."
Life was an adventure for Mr. 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 May 24, 1962.
"You're looking out at a totally black sky, seeing an altimeter reading of 90,000 feet and realize you are going straight up. And the thought crossed my mind: What am I doing?" Mr. Carpenter said 49 years later in a joint lecture with Glenn at the Smithsonian Institution.
For Mr. 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."
Even before Mr. Carpenter ventured into space, he made history on Feb. 20, 1962, when he gave his Glenn send-off. It was a spur-of-the-moment phrase, Mr. Carpenter later said.
"In those days, speed was magic, because that's all that was required . . . and nobody had gone that fast," Mr. Carpenter explained. "If you can get that speed, you're home free, and it just occurred to me at the time that I hope you get your speed. Because once that happens, the flight's a success."
Three months later, Mr. Carpenter was launched into space from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and completed three orbits around Earth in his space capsule, the Aurora 7, which he named after the celestial event.
His four hours, 39 minutes, and 32 seconds of weightlessness were "the nicest thing that ever happened to me," Mr. Carpenter told a NASA historian. "The zero-g sensation and the visual sensation of spaceflight are transcending experiences, and I wish everybody could have them."