Space Program – Aurora 7

Aurora 7 – Astronaut Scott Carpenter

Fifty years after he was plucked from the Atlantic Ocean and deposited onto the deck of the USS Intrepid, pioneering astronaut Scott Carpenter marked the anniversary of his three orbits of Earth and tense re-entry with a return to the ship that brought him to safety.

  • Carpenter’s Aurora 7 mission came three months after John Glenn’s first American orbital flight as the United States pursued the Soviet Union in the Cold War race to outer space. Carpenter’s flight is remembered most for the drama-filled re-entry when his tiny space capsule overshot its target by 250 miles.
  • The expected communications blackout as the capsule re-entered the atmosphere lasted nine minutes, more than twice the length of Glenn’s blackout period. The worried nation waited tensely for word of his fate, and President Kennedy’s White House kept an open phone line to NASA’s mission headquarters.
  • After splashing down, Carpenter was afloat beyond line-of-sight radio communications. NASA waited 40 minutes before announcing to the world that Carpenter was alive. He climbed out of his capsule and waited in a raft for a helicopter to hoist him out of the sea.
  • I was alone, but I didn’t worry about that,” Carpenter said. “My mind was busy reviewing that marvelous and recent experience.”
  • His flight of just under five hours was so much fun, he said, “I got a little tired of having to talk to the ground (mission control) so much.”
  • I was very happy to see that it all ended successfully,” Carpenter said. “It got the United States back in the space race. We were tied with the Soviet Union, and that was important.”
  • Carpenter and Glenn are the only survivors among the original seven U.S. astronauts, and neither Carpenter’s flight nor name are as well remembered as those of Glenn, who later served as U.S. senator from Ohio and celebrated the 50th anniversary of his flight on Feb. 12.
  • I know that first flights get the attention, but each flight builds on the one before it,” Glenn, 90, said in recent interview. “That’s the way we make progress.”
  • Carpenter and Glenn worked closely together — Carpenter was Glenn’s backup, meaning he was both understudy and alter-ego, Glenn recalled, before getting his own ride on the next mission. “Scott did a marvelous job for me,” Glenn said.
  • One of the most memorable quotations of the early space age was Carpenter’s words broadcast around the world from mission control during the final seconds before Glenn’s blast off: “Godspeed, John Glenn.”
  • Besides asking for divine help, Carpenter was praying for speed: The two previous NASA flights had been suborbital, and to circle the planet, the launch rocket needed to obtain orbital velocity, more than 17,500 miles an hour.
  • It came straight from the heart,” Carpenter said. “What John needed sitting on that rocket ready to ride was speed, more than any of his predecessors had had. … It had special meaning. It was appropriate.”
  • A ceremony held, among several marking Carpenter’s anniversary, honored him by Swiss watchmaker Breitling, which built a special 24-hour watch Carpenter wore on his orbital flight and later produced a Scott Carpenter special edition Cosmonaute timepiece.
  • Susan Marenoff-Zausner, president of the Intrepid museum, said ship lore has it that once his initial debriefing and doctor’s exam were conducted, Carpenter sat down to a dinner of two steaks, prepared by the Intrepid crew.
  • It was kind of exciting,” recalled John Olivera, 71, a retired New Jersey police officer who was a seaman on the Intrepid then. “He was whisked away quickly.”
  • For Carpenter and Glenn, the end of the space shuttle program is an unhappy development. Glenn says that “we’ve gotten ourselves into a lousy situation,” relying on the Russians to transport American astronauts to the International Space Station. Carpenter left NASA after his flight and explored under the ocean as part of the Navy’s SEALAB program.
  • Failure to explore space is a failure of global importance,” Carpenter said. “It’s not a Russian effort, not a Chinese effort, not an American effort to explore space. It’s an effort for humanity. And if we back off and don’t investigate our location in the solar system, it’s a loss felt globally.”

                                                                                     – Molly Brown –

                                             Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Command Pilot – John W. Young, Pilot

The first manned Gemini flight and first U.S. space flight with two astronauts aboard featured the first use of an Orbital Attitude Maneuvering System (OAMS) to create a controlled orbital and re-entry path. This capability created the first fully maneuverable U.S. manned spacecraft.

During the flight, the Gemini 3 spacecraft’s orbit was altered to a more oval and higher pattern, ranging in altitude from 100 to 139 miles. Orbit was also shifted to a more circular pattern, using on-board thrusters to practice techniques which would be applied during upcoming Gemini rendezvous and docking missions.

Grissom became the first person to fly in space twice. Sadly, this was the astronaut’s last flight prior to being killed in the tragic Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967.

The Gemini 3 capsule was unofficially dubbed “Molly Brown” in reference to the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” of Titanic fame. Grissom’s capsule sank and was lost during his first space flight, Mercury MR-4, thus precipitating this “Molly Brown” nickname.

Unauthorized Gemini 3 “cargo” included a corned beef sandwich reportedly purchased at Wolfie’s Restaurant in Cocoa Beach, which was eaten by Grissom during the flight. Astronaut Young was authorized to eat specially prepared space food, and Grissom was not authorized to eat anything.

Crumbs from the “weightless” sandwich scattered throughout the Gemini 3 spacecraft, posing a potential, if unintentional, flight safety risk. This rules violation caused NASA to clamp down on what astronauts could and could not carry into space.

Although one of the primary goals of the Gemini program was to make pinpoint spacecraft recoveries, the Gemini 3 capsule splashed down about 60 miles from the primary recovery vessel.

Unlike the Mercury capsules, which splashed down upright, the Gemini capsules were designed to splash down on their sides. This was the first time a U.S. manned spacecraft had splashed down on its side, and the force of this type of water impact caused the faceplate in Grissom’s helmet to crack.

Note: The Gemini 3 capsule nickname “Molly Brown” was unofficial. During the Mercury program, astronauts were permitted to select official nicknames for their spacecraft. These nicknames were then used as official call signs during the mission.

The capsule nickname policy was rescinded by NASA during the Gemini program, during which mission managers instead opted to use the mission name as the official spacecraft call sign.

Astronauts were again permitted to nickname their spacecraft during the Apollo program, but only during flights involving both a Command Module and Lunar Module. The operation of two spacecraft during an individual mission was then made easier through the use of different call signs for each spacecraft.

Note: The Soviet space program jumped from one-person flights to a three-person flight. Cosmonauts Komarov, Feoktistov and Yegorov were launched aboard Voskhod 1 on October 12, 1964.


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