American Astronaut Scott Carpenter Succumbs
Thursday October 10, 2013 pioneer test pilot, early NASA astronaut Scott Carpenter succumbed due to medical complications from a recent stroke, at the age of 88. Carpenter was hospitalized after suffering a stroke at his home last month in Vail, Colorado.
The word of Carpenter’s death came from family friends and confirmed by wife, Patty Barrett shortly after his demise and this left his friend and fellow former astronaut John Glenn the last living member of the Mercury 7 astronauts.
Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, made the statement about Carpenter: “As one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, he 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.”
Malcolm Scott Carpenter was born on May 1, 1925, in Boulder, Colo., the son of research chemist M. Scott Carpenter and Florence Kelso Noxon Carpenter. He moved to New York City with his parents for the first two years of his life. His father had been awarded a postdoctoral research post at Columbia University.
In the summer of 1927, Scott returned to Boulder with his mother, then ill with tuberculosis. He was raised by his maternal grandparents in the family home at the corner of Aurora Avenue and Seventh Street, until his graduation from Boulder High School in 1943.
Upon graduation, he was accepted into the V-12 Navy College Training Program as an aviation cadet (V-12a), where he trained until the end of World War II. The war ended before he was able to finish training and receive an overseas assignment, so the Navy released him from active duty. He returned to Boulder in November 1945 to study aeronautical engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. While at Colorado he joined Delta Tau Delta International Fraternity. At the end of his senior year, he missed the final examination in heat transfer, leaving him one requirement short of a degree. After his Mercury flight, the university granted him the degree on grounds that, “His subsequent training as an Astronaut has more than made up for the deficiency in the subject of heat transfer.”
Carpenter was later recruited by the United States Navy at the start of the Korean. He reported to the Naval Air Station Pensacola, FL for pre-flight and primary flight training, in the fall of 1949. Scott earned his aviator wings on April 19, 1951, in Corpus Christi, Texas.
During his first tour of duty, on his first deployment, Carpenter flew a Lockheed P2V Neptune for Patrol Squadron Six (VP-6) on reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare missions during the Korean War. Based in Alaska, Carpenter flew surveillance along the Soviet and Chinese coasts during his second deployment. He was designated as plane commander for his third deployment, LTJG Carpenter was based in Guam.
In 1954 he was appointed to the United States Naval Test Pilot School, class 13, at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland and continued at Patuxent until 1957, working as a test pilot in the Electronics Test Division; the next tour of duty was spent in Monterey, California, at the Navy Line School. In 1958, Carpenter was named Air Intelligence Officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.
After being chosen for Project Mercury in 1959, Carpenter served as backup pilot for John Glenn, who flew the first U.S. orbital mission aboard Friendship 7 in February 1962. When Deke Slayton was withdrawn on medical grounds from Project Mercury’s second Delta 7 manned orbital flight, Carpenter was assigned to replace him. He flew into space on May 24, 1962, atop the Mercury-Atlas 7 rocket for a three-orbit science mission that lasted nearly five hours. His Aurora 7 spacecraft attained a maximum altitude of 164 miles and an orbital velocity of 17,532 miles per hour.
Carpenter in a water egress training exercise before his Mercury Atlas 7 mission.
Working through five onboard experiments dictated by the flight plan, Carpenter helped, among other things, to identify the mysterious ‘fireflies’ which he called ‘frost-flies,’ as they were in reality particles of frozen liquid around the craft, first observed by Glenn during MA-6.
Carpenter was the first American astronaut to eat solid food in space.
Chris Kraft, directing the flight from Florida, considered Carpenter’s “mission the most successful to date; everything had gone perfectly except for some over-expenditure of fuel.”
Unnoticed by ground control or pilot, however, this “over-expenditure of fuel” was caused by an intermittently malfunctioning pitch horizon scanner that later malfunctioned at reentry. Still, NASA later reported that Carpenter had: “exercised his manual controls with ease in a number of spacecraft maneuvers and had made numerous and valuable observations in the interest of space science. . . . By the time he drifted near Hawaii on the third pass, Carpenter had successfully maintained more than 40 percent of his fuel in both the automatic and the manual tanks. According to mission rules, this ought to be quite enough hydrogen peroxide, reckoned Kraft, to thrust the capsule into the retrofire attitude, hold it, and then to reenter the atmosphere using either the automatic or the manual control system.”
At the retrofire event, the pitch horizon scanner malfunctioned once more, forcing Carpenter to manually control his reentry, which caused him to overshoot the planned splashdown point by 250 mi. “The malfunction of the pitch horizon scanner circuit, a component of the automatic control system, dictated that the pilot manually control the spacecraft attitudes during this event.” The PHS malfunction jerked the spacecraft off in yaw by 25 degrees to the right, accounting for 170 miles of the overshoot; the delay caused by the automatic sequencer required Carpenter to fire the retrorockets manually. This effort took two pushes of the override button and accounted for another 15 to 20 miles of the overshoot. The loss of thrust in the ripple pattern of the retros added another 60 miles, producing a 250-mile overshoot.
Forty minutes after splashdown, Carpenter was located in his life raft, safe and in good health by Maj. Fred Brown under the command of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard, and recovered three hours later by the USS Intrepid.
Postflight analysis described the PHS malfunction as “mission critical” but noted that the pilot “adequately compensated” for “this anomaly . . . in subsequent inflight procedures.”, confirming that backup systems human pilots could succeed when automatic systems fail.
Some memoirs have revived the simmering controversy over who or what, exactly, was to blame for the overshoot, suggesting, for example, that Carpenter was distracted by the science and engineering experiments dictated by the flight plan and by the well-reported fireflies phenomenon. Yet fuel consumption and other aspects of the vehicle operation were, during Project Mercury, as much, if not more, the responsibility of the ground controllers. Moreover, hardware malfunctions went unidentified, while organizational tensions between the astronaut office and the flight controller office tensions that NASA did not resolve until the later Gemini and Apollo programs may account for much of the latter-day criticism of Carpenter’s performance during his flight.
Carpenter never flew another mission in space. After taking a leave of absence from the astronaut corps in the fall of 1963 to train for and participate in the Navy’s SEALAB program, Carpenter sustained a medically grounding injury to his left arm in a motorbike accident. After failing to regain mobility in his arm after two surgical interventions (in 1964 and 1967), Carpenter was ruled ineligible for spaceflight. He resigned from NASA in August 1967.
There was a special connection between Scott Carpenter and John Glenn, a retired senator and astronaut who is still in good health at the age of 92. It was Carpenter who served as the backup for the Friendship 7 mission on Feb. 20, 1962, which made Glenn the first American in Earth orbit. And it was Carpenter who radioed, “Godspeed, John Glenn,” from NASA’s Cape Canaveral blockhouse as his colleague headed for history.
Carpenter became the second American in orbit on May 24, 1962, when he piloted his Aurora 7 capsule through three orbits. During that flight, he became the first American to eat solid food in space, in the form of energy snacks called “Space Food Sticks”.
Aurora 7 was Carpenter’s only spaceflight: He was removed from flight status after breaking his arm in a motorcycle accident in 1964, and left NASA in 1967.
Proud to be an aquanaut
In addition to his astronaut experience, the former naval aviator participated in the Navy’s SeaLab underwater training program as an aquanaut. “He was just as proud of being an aquanaut as being an astronaut,” recalled the NASA Public Information Officer.
After his retirement from the Navy in 1969, Carpenter took on a number of business ventures and served as a movie consultant in the fields of spaceflight, oceanography and the environment. He wrote two novels as well as a memoir with one of his daughters, titled “For Spacious Skies: The Uncommon Journey of a Mercury Astronaut.”
When Glenn returned to orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1998, Carpenter said the space missions that he and his Mercury crewmates flew were part of a decades-long effort that would ultimately send humans to Mars and beyond. “All these flights will one day lead to manned exploration of other worlds outside our own solar system,” Carpenter said in an essay written for NBC News. “That will not be soon. But it is inevitable.”
He gave his most famous phrase a reprise for Glenn’s launch: “Good luck, have a safe flight, and … once again, Godspeed, John Glenn.”
Carpenter was married four times and divorced three. He married Rene Louise Price in 1948. In 1972, he married Maria Roach, daughter of film producer Hal Roach. He married Barbara Curtin in 1988. He had four children from his first marriage: Marc Scott, Kristen Elaine, Candace Noxon, and Robyn Jay. He also had two children from his second marriage: Matthew Scott and filmmaker Nicholas Andre, and one child from his third marriage, Zachary Scott.
Carpenter had a stroke and entered a hospice in Denver where he died on Thursday October 10, 2013. He was 88 and was survived by his wife, Patty; four sons, Jay, Matthew, Nicholas and Zachary; two daughters Kristen Stoever and Candace Carpenter; a granddaughter; and five step-grandchildren. Two sons, Timothy and Scott, predeceased him.
“We’re going to miss him,” Patty Barrett Carpenter said to the press…
So shall we Patty! “Godspeed Scott Carpenter!”
In this photo Scott Carpenter is on the far left of the Mercury 7 astronauts. 20 January 1961 at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. By an F-106B supersonic interceptor.
Trivia: Supposedly, the Mercury 7 astronauts (who were all fighter pilots) demanded something fast to fly, in order to maintain their piloting skills and egos. The USAF duly supplied an F-102. However, the F-102 was barely supersonic. The astronauts complained, and subsequently NASA and USAF furnished the F-106.
(Thanks to John Stemple and his archives)
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JR Hafer, aviation writer, 20thCenturyAviationMagazine.com