An explorer in space and in the ocean, Mercury 7 astronaut Scott Carpenter, died Thursday, of complications related to a recent stroke. He was 88.
A U.S. Navy reconnaissance pilot during the Korean War, Carpenter was selected as one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, making him an instant celebrity. The astronauts were chosen by NASA to contest with Soviet feats of human spaceflight at the dawn of the space race. (See “Picture Archive: First Seven Astronauts, 1962“.)
Carpenter flew the second U.S. orbital spaceflight, following John Glenn, his closest friend among the original astronauts, in 1962. He was the sixth person in space.
A “handsome devil” in the words of Tom Wolfe’s chronicle of the astronauts, The Right Stuff, Carpenter was also one of the most science-minded and physically-fit of the Mercury 7. An experienced undersea swimmer, he turned to underwater exploration on a leave of absence from NASA in 1965, spending 30 days living and working underwater as an aquanaut in the SEALAB II facility. He later worked with undersea explorer Jaques Cousteau.
In recent years, Carpenter joined other Moon race era astronauts to criticize plans to steer NASA away from moon landings and cancel the Constellation rocket program. “NASA must continue at the frontiers of human space exploration in order to develop the technology and set the standards of excellence that will enable commercial space ventures to eventually succeed,” avowed a letter signed by Carpenter and 27 other astronauts, calling for a continued U.S. manned spaceflight program.
Carpenter is survived by his wife, Patty Barrett and six children, according to NBC News.