Godspeed Scott Carpenter

Mercury-Atlas Aurora 7 lifts off from Cape Canaveral on May 24th 1962 carrying Scott Carpenter

Last week, astronaut Scott Carpenter died at the age of 88, and while I was thinking of a suitable way to honor the man, much as I did for Neil Armstrong, I was also in the midst of many distractions that prevented me from publishing something I thought worthy. This Sunday essay from newspaper colleague Roger Aylworth appealed to me because it said everything I wanted to say, in a way far better than I could say it, while at the same time paralleling my own experience with Carpenter’s spaceflight. Roger was kind enough to let me repost it here.  – Anthony

Losing a hero is tougher when you’ve actually met him


Originally published in the Chico Enterprise Record  10/13/2013 12:55:03 AM PDT, reprinted here with permission.

I lost one of my personal heroes last week and, unlike most of my heroes, this was a man I actually met.

It was May 24, 1962, and I was an 11-year-old, sitting on my parents’ beige carpet, watching my family’s black-and-white television when I was first introduced to Scott Carpenter.

He was sitting on a vertically aimed bomb, called a missile, that was about to make him the second American to orbit the earth. The first, John Glenn, made his flight in February 1962. 

I watched in juvenile fascination when the rocket fired and Carpenter rose so very slowly on a column of flame. It was loud, it was scary and it was cool beyond all question.

Like the vast majority of Americans, I had no clue about the array of problems, some of them life threatening, that plagued Carpenter’s flight.

Carpenter never flew in space again, but that didn’t matter. He was one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. All seven were presented to the nation as space knights, dressed in silvery space suits, wearing helmets that looked a lot like white plastic fish bowls with a clear movable window in front.

Carpenter was never one of the magic names. He wasn’t John Glenn or Neil Armstrong. He never walked on the moon. In fact, he never again went into space. He did utter some famous words but I’ll talk about that later.

Decades later, after I had already put many years into the news business, Carpenter gave me one of those moments when being a news reporter is about the best job on the planet.

In my line of work, one spends a lot of time dealing with the evil and desperately sad parts of life, but there are other times when I have had the opportunity to meet great, honorable, sometimes even historic people.

For me, meeting Carpenter was one of those glorious moments.

Even though I told the man he was one of my personal heroes, he treated me as if we were we just two guys chatting. He was pleasant, candid, open, and also a Mercury 7 astronaut. I said to him, “I remember, as a young boy, watching your launch.” At the time I was in my 50s.

The pilot, astronaut, deep sea explorer and author took a minute to look at my girth, my silver hair and my general grandfatherly visage and said, “You know, you really know how to hurt a guy.”

I don’t think I actually hurt his feelings, but I do think, unlike some of my younger colleagues, I showed him I knew who he was and why I should care that he was visiting my town. I liked Scott Carpenter. He treated me as an equal — more or less — and that is one of the nicest things a truly historic figure can do for a mere mortal.

When John Glenn, who is now the last remaining member of the Mercury 7, was being sent aloft on his historic orbital flight, Carpenter was the “capsule communicator” or “cap com,” the man in the control room who spoke directly to the astronaut.

When Glenn’s rocket ignited and began its skyward climb, Carpenter said, “Godspeed, John Glenn.” Today I say, “Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.”

File:Scott Carpennter thumbnail.jpg

Roger H. Aylworth is a staff writer with the Enterprise-Record. His column appears every Sunday and he can be reached at 896-7762 or @RogerAylworth on Twitter.


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October 14, 2013 1:24 pm

This raised the hair on my arms.

Tim Walker
October 14, 2013 1:30 pm

Very well done.

October 14, 2013 1:31 pm

I met Scott Carpenter at the Boy Scout World Jamboree in 1967. I was15 at the time and I was part of the “show” crew, running microphones and doing whatever. He was a special guest and I got to spend a couple of minutes with him, me all google-eyed I’m sure. He was just a nice guy to everyone and it was an honor to even talk to him. “Godspeed John Glenn” has become almost the trademark quote of Project Mercury.

Chad Wozniak
October 14, 2013 1:34 pm

How short we are of real heroes nowadays . . . and even shorter when a Scott Carpenter passes on.

October 14, 2013 1:42 pm

May 24, 1962, I was a 12-year-old. Also glued to the tube. And the newspaper. When it came to going to outer space, I never missed a word of news. I was a fanatic. What a flashback. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Bob Diaz
October 14, 2013 1:44 pm

The early days of America’s space program seemed almost like a dream. What was science fiction in the movies and on TV, was becoming a reality as we took our first steps out there. “Godspeed Scott Carpenter” sums up my feelings abut his passing.

Roy Jones
October 14, 2013 1:48 pm

In the UK he made the obituaries section of the Daily Telegraph.

Tom Norkunas
October 14, 2013 1:56 pm

Most people, even NASA, in fact, don’t know that those rockets were literally willed upwards into space by a small Wisconsin boy’s sheer force of thoughts of “Go go go!”.
That a small boy could do such a thing stills causes a sense of wonder in a graying old man.

Craig Moore
October 14, 2013 1:59 pm

I remember the launch vividly. I was only 9 years old. My mother brought my brother and me a hot bowl of Cream of Wheat with butter, cinnamon and milk splashed on top as we sat in front of our Admiral B&W TV waiting for the launch. May he rest in peace.

October 14, 2013 2:18 pm

As a nine year old he was my hero, the talk of the school yard and an inspiration to follow a path to science. He’s closer to heaven now than he ever was then.

October 14, 2013 2:49 pm

A great time that appears lost. Not only the time, but also the spirit and scientific curiosity.
People like Carpenter and Armstrong will not be forgotten in 10 000 years.

October 14, 2013 2:57 pm

John Glenn, Yuri Gargarin, Scott Carpenter and all the other guys who allowed themselves to be strapped atop a huge rocket full of volatile fuel are all heros. They paved the way that allowed the Apollo heros to make it to the Moon and back. Yet afterwards, these men went onto to lead relatively uneventful lives. We won’t see the likes of them in many a year.
In those early days, I hardly missed a moment of the Space programme.
I did a piece on Niel Armstrong of you care to read it.

October 14, 2013 3:20 pm

eyesonu says:
October 14, 2013 at 1:24 pm
This raised the hair on my arms.
Ditto – and brought tears to my eyes. My dad worked on the latter Gemini missions, and all the way through Apollo 15. It would be fair to say we idolized men like Scott Carpenter and for good reason. The fact that they remained so humble also speaks volumes on their character. Men like him are real heroes and am greatly saddened when those who “report” on sports use that word to describe a sports celebrity.

October 14, 2013 3:57 pm

Per Ardua ad astra…welcome journey;s end Scott Carpenter..

October 14, 2013 4:19 pm

God speed Scott Carpenter!
You and your fellow astronauts gave inspiration to myself and other members of my generation!
I was glued to our TV during all the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions. What a fantastic era!
God Bless you!

Owen in GA
October 14, 2013 5:03 pm

I was born too late to watch his flight, but was glued to the set for Apollo. The only flight I ever saw in person was the glide test of the space shuttle out at Edwards AFB as a teenager. I chose physics as a field based on those flights. What shall prod the new generation to dream big dreams?

James at 48
October 14, 2013 5:23 pm

Similar to a few here this was before I came on the scene. My own recollections begin with the last Gemini flights, but even then I had no clue what was happening. It was Apollo that I watched and understood.

October 14, 2013 5:50 pm

Ever wonder why Carpenter only flew once? It is hinted at in Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff.” There was a food fight between the engineers and the astronauts in the early days of Mercury. Carpenter’s flight was plagued with mechanical problems. Carpenter contributed by using too much orbital maneuvering fuel. The reentry was late and hair raising. They thought they had lost the craft (as an aside, that makes 3 out of the first 4 flights they either thought they were in danger of losing the spacecraft or actually did with Grissom’s Liberty Bell 7 sinking after splashdown). Sounds like Carpenter’s reentry was the most dangerous for reasons explained at the link below.
Godspeed to all of those guys. They were and still are heroes. The story of Mercury and Gemini is a lot grittier than we like to remember. In some ways more interesting. Cheers –

October 14, 2013 6:00 pm

Scott Carpenter certainly deserves this encomium. “Sitting on a vertically aimed bomb” is an excellent description.
@ Bill Hayes
Without wishing to belittle the heroism of Glenn or Carpenter, surely your list of heroes should have started with Yuri Gargarin and Gherman Titov.

October 14, 2013 6:24 pm

I was in grade school during the first Mercury flights and stayed inside during recess to listen to the radio coverage of the flights being broadcast on the school’s PA system.
The first astronaut I met was Christa McAuliffe – she returned home to New Hampshire the day she was selected to be the “Teacher in Space” and a I joined a bunch of people (and two bagpipers) that evening at the airport to congratulate her. It was not a good morning when Challenger disappeared in a white cloud. I tried to will Challenger back into view, but it just didn’t work.
The second astronaut I met is my personal hero – Harrison Schmitt. He is the only geologist to walk on the Moon. I met him at the 2010 ICCC conference in Chicago and was amazed that he was such a cordial and down to earth fellow.
Carpenter’s flight was in 1962. Fifty years later and the United States doesn’t have the ability to replicate the flight. Bummer.

October 14, 2013 7:56 pm

I grew up in the rocket era. Astounding and Galaxy were my reading material. Chesley Bonestell my pinup artist. Destination Moon my favorite movie (or maybe Forbidden Planet). My first rocket was a paper towel tube full of black powder. Later, my friends and I built a two stage rocket. The last rocket I worked on was the Saturn S-IVB. Scott Carpenter will always be one of the big names to me.

October 14, 2013 8:34 pm

No complaint with “Godspeed Scott Carpenter” as a title, but “Fair Winds and Following Seas” would be more fitting for his naval service.

October 14, 2013 8:57 pm

My rockets were tinfoil tubes with sulphur match heads as a propellant.
Thanks for the memories! Forbidden Planet was one of my all-time faves, too. I craved having my own Robbie the Robot. What kid didn’t?

Mike McMillan
October 14, 2013 9:24 pm

dbstealey & jorgekafkazar,
Ditto ‘Forbidden Planet’ and match heads.
The Mercury program was the theme of the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention. I made up a series of sidebars with facts (spacecraft, rockets, space suit, stuff you didn’t know, etc.) about the program for the web site. I’ve gathered them onto one page for easy perusal. Carpenter is the guy in the space suit.

October 14, 2013 9:30 pm

dbstealey says:
October 14, 2013 at 8:57 pm
Thanks for the memories! Forbidden Planet was one of my all-time faves, too. I craved having my own Robbie the Robot. What kid didn’t?
+1 . Also a time of real science and engineering. At 88 he had a very good innings..

Janice Moore
October 14, 2013 10:00 pm

Thank you, Mr. Aylworth, for introducing me to this fine man. Now, I (and many others, no doubt) know him, too, a true hero, indeed. And you were right not to mention anyone’s names who were not personal heroes to you or part of the American space program of which your fallen hero was a member. First of all, you were talking about the American space program. Second, this was a Eulogy, pleasant words from your heart, not a historical documentary. Well written.
lol, D. B. Stealey (and Jorge K.) — I have no special engineering aptitude, so I didn’t bother with a command module — just the boosters. Every year on the 4th of July starting around age 16, I tied as many bottle rockets together as I was old and lit them off for my personal “tradition.” I stopped at age 25. Boy, those were the days (and I was lucky to have two really neat brothers, heh).
“‘Fair Winds and Following Seas’ would be more fitting for his naval service.” (Frisker at 2034)
Ah, then, this from Tennyson would, I think, not be inappropriate….
Sunset and evening star,
and one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
as I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
and after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
when I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
the flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
when I have crossed the bar.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Scott Carpenter entered into the presence of his Pilot
last week and of this I am certain,
as he put his hand to his forehead to salute,
his Pilot welcomed him with a smile and open arms
and he heard a resounding,
“Well done!”

October 15, 2013 12:28 am

agimarc said at October 14, 2013 at 5:50 pm:

Ever wonder why Carpenter only flew once?

Here is a different perspective that is more positive:

October 15, 2013 5:23 am

Thank you Anthony, thank your Roger, and thank you Scott. Godspeed.

October 15, 2013 5:34 am

Wow, what a different perspective than http://amyshirateitel.com/2012/05/25/carpenter-versus-aurora-7/ – folks, read both!

October 15, 2013 7:46 am

Scott Carpenter … one of the elite few that have been involved in extraordinary achievement. His name has always sat alongside names like Glenn and Armstrong … truly special human beings whom I have the greatest respect.

Steve Keohane
October 15, 2013 10:16 am

As a friend of a friend of mine, I got to meet and dine with Scott on a few occasions. He was a friendly, down-to-earth and genuinely nice humble person. Without knowing his past, one would never guess he was an iconic hero.
Speaking of making rockets, we bought kits and engines from Estes (Rocket?) Co. I think it was in Colorado Springs, CO, gee, I guess it was 50 years ago now. They had 1 to 3 stage rockets with parachute return, some with small payload space, say for a frog… well NASA shot up animals didn’t they?

Gary Pearse
October 15, 2013 10:52 am

Sputnik sent me into engineering and although I diverted into geological engineering, I followed the whole show – still checking up the Mars rovers, etc. Also, I joined the Royal Canadian Astronomical Society with my then 12 year old daughter to look at the night skies and to build a reflecting telescope using Sir Isaac Newton’s recipe. I even tried my hand at solving the pioneer 10 and 11 anomalies (having to sweep off decades of dust from my math and physics and to learn new stuff besides – “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”- Robert Browning.
After years of study, NASA scientists are happy to have explained it with a 60watt imbalance in thermal “thrust” on opposite sides of the antenna from the 2.5kW plutonium power source for the crafts’ telemetry that resulted in a slight assist to gravity in the direction of the sun. Personally, the weight of my miniscule opinion on the subject, based on the apparent excess gravitational attraction that gives the spiral arms of galaxies their shape, and skepticism in the “dark matter” patch vulcanized on to explain it, I explored a modified gravity function explanation (that is unlikely to ever see the light of day). Anyway, the unfolding of the space age did engage me and enrich my life enormously. A proud product of this is that my daughter, now a real physicist, spent a couple of years at JPL of NASA in a post doctoral capacity.
Anyway, in living history I remember Yuri Gagarin, Scott Carpenter and all the rest of these magnificent human specimens in the golden age of space exploration. They made me and almost everyone I knew more interested and, possibly, more interesting than likely would have been. Let’s hope this stuff isn’t all over with.

October 15, 2013 11:19 am

I can empathize with Carpenter’s remark about age! That he was now 88 jars my reality. When I was at Pensacola, was a guinea pig for Charlie Diamond of NAMI who knew all the original Seven. Flying on the “Vomit Comet, ” got to meed Harrison Schmitt and see the Apollo 15 crew rehearse. http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v620/mikesnow/258044-R1-20-20.jpg

Chris R.
October 15, 2013 1:11 pm

Just to show how high the expectations for the Mercury 7 astronauts were,
Scott Carpenter’s performance was considered poor by the legendary
Chris Kraft (then flight director). Supposedly the latter “swore” that Carpenter
“would never fly in space again”. He kept that promise.
The substance of Kraft’s complaint seems to have been based on Carpenter
using a lot of maneuvering fuel early in the mission. Carpenter had been
given a number of scientific missions to perform, including attempting to
observe airglow and a series of flares fired at ground locations. Carpenter’s
contention was that he used the fuel maneuvering to get a better view of
the Earth. Kraft’s viewpoint was that Carpenter was sightseeing. Kraft
was furious that Carpenter departed from the flight plan.
As I said, this shows just how high expectations were. Not only were you
supposed to be unconcerned about strapping on a highly explosive
liquid-fueled rocket that had the mass ratio of an eggshell. You were also
supposed to be a total automaton with respect to the flight plan. However,
you were also supposed to exercise independent judgement in case of
equipment failure. This is a very fine set of lines to walk.

October 16, 2013 4:09 pm

The truly great of this world are usually quite humble, as mastery of their skill usually requires humility and dedication. I once spent half an hour with Patty Wagstaff, three times in a row aerobatic unlimited category world champion. We chatted at an airshow, alone, while wiping clean her Extra 300 from bugs. We talked of flying, of life, of love, of living spaces and houses, of airplanes, or living abroad, and all sorts of things. She was watching an F16 airforce aerobatic team and commenting factually and professionally “these guys are *really* good”.
We derive a large part of our opinion of people from what Hollywood shows us. But real life is, fortunately, not like dramatizing Hollywood would have us believe.

Janice Moore
October 16, 2013 8:51 pm

Monsieur Avon, (re: today at 4:09pm) I agree.
Throughout history, what distinguishes the great from
the merely accomplished is one thing:

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