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Scott Carpenter, Mercury 7 astronaut and second American to orbit the Earth, dies at age 88

Photo by NASA/RetroSpaceImages

Scott Carpenter, the second American to orbit the Earth, died in hospice care Thursday in Denver. Carpenter, a native of Colorado, was serving in the Navy as a pilot when he was recruited to become one of NASA’s first class of astronauts in 1959. Known as the “Mercury 7”, the class included John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Alan Shepard, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, and Deke Slayton. He went on to become an “aquanaut,” an underwater explorer, after leaving the space program. He was the sixth person to leave planet Earth. Carpenter, in a 1999 NASA oral history interview, said that while his first and only spaceflight in 1962 was “transcending,” it was also “very brief.”

“The zero-g sensation and the visual sensation of space flight are transcending experiences, and I wish everybody could have them,” he added.

He orbited the Earth three times, splashing down in his Aurora 7 spacecraft off Cape Canaveral four hours after takeoff. After injuring his left arm in a motorcycle accident in 1964, Carpenter was unable to return to space. He joined the Navy’s Deep Submergence Systems Project in 1967, exploring the oceans. Carpenter spent 30 days living on the ocean floor in Navy’s SeaLab II. He was continually involved with space exploration, helping design the Apollo lunar module and developing underwater training for space walks.

Life magazine has an interview and photo essay of the astronaut in 1962, including never-published photos of Carpenter and his family:

“”I knew the second great sensation, weightlessness. [The] pressure suit, which is very constricting on the ground, became entirely comfortable. Though it was part of the planned routine to report this moment to the ground, it was so exhilarating that my report was really a spontaneous and joyful exclamation: ‘I am weightless!’ Now the supreme experience had really begun.”

— Scott Carpenter, 1962 Life magazine interview

H/T Rebecca Jacobson

EDITOR’S NOTE: We had previously written that Scott Carpenter was the second man to orbit the Earth and the last surviving Mercury 7 astronaut. He was in fact the second American man to orbit the earth and the last surviving astronaut of the Mercury 7 mission is John Glenn.

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