Scott Carpenter, who in 1962 became the fourth US astronaut in space and second American to orbit the Earth, died today in Colorado at age 88 of complications from a stroke.
In 1959, NASA chose Carpenter and six other pilots to be astronauts in response to the Soviet Union's space program. The only surviving member of that Mercury 7 team is John Glenn, 92, who went on to serve as a US Senator from Ohio for more than two decades. Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth, and Carpenter was his backup on that mission.
Later that year, Carpenter made only one spaceflight, taking the Aurora 7 spacecraft on three laps around Earth on May 24, 1962, a few weeks after his 37th birthday. It was a flight of less than five hours and made him the fourth American in space and the second, after Glenn, to orbit Earth.
Carpenter, unlike his Mercury colleagues, had never been in a fighter squadron during the Korean War, instead flying mostly surveillance planes. Much of his flight time had been in multi-engine propeller planes, rather than jets.
"Scott was the only one with a touch of the poet about him in the sense that the idea of going into space stirred his imagination," Tom Wolfe wrote in "The Right Stuff," his best-selling book about the first astronauts.
Carpenter, a former gymnast known among colleagues for his fitness, had trained as the back-up to Glenn for NASA's first orbital flight. When Glenn blasted off on the Friendship 7 mission on February 20, 1962, Carpenter sent him off with a simple yet poignant radio transmission: "Godspeed, John Glenn."
Despite his fame as an astronaut, Carpenter spent considerably more time on the ocean floor than he did in outer space. In 1965, the astronaut became an aquanaut as part of the Navy's SEALAB II project, spending 30 days living and working at a depth of 204 feet off the California coast.