An eye for an i #438 Children

Scott Carpenter – an astronaut and an aquanaut

Scott Carpenter talks over the ship-to-shore telephone to then U.S. President John Kennedy, shortly after being rescued from the Atlantic after his orbital flight of the Earth in the Aurora 7 spacecraft.   | Photo Credit: UPI

Do you dream about heading out to space in a spaceship and performing feats that will be remembered forever? Or do you wish to dive underwater, spending months living and experimenting on the ocean floor? Better still, what if you could have a bit of both? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you would love to know more about American Scott Carpenter.

Born in 1925, Carpenter didn’t have the best of childhoods as his parents’ marriage broke up while he was still young. Brought up by his maternal grandfather, who owned and edited a newspaper, Carpenter grew fond of outdoor life and the prospect of flying.

As World War II ended before he got his licence for flying, he had to wait a bit longer. He got his chance during the Korean War, when he flew patrol planes in the Pacific. After attending the Navy Test Pilot School at Maryland and testing multiple types of navy aircraft, he served as the air intelligence officer aboard an aircraft carrier.

Mercury Seven

In April 1959, Carpenter became famous overnight as he was one among the seven military pilots chosen as NASA’s original astronauts for the Mercury programme. Apart from his flying skills, Carpenter was highly skilled in communications and navigations, and was also in excellent physical condition, making him a great choice.

The Original Seven Mercury astronauts. Carpenter is at the right in the front row.

The Original Seven Mercury astronauts. Carpenter is at the right in the front row.   | Photo Credit: NASA

In February 1962, when John Glenn performed the first Mercury orbital mission, Carpenter served as backup. He was also the capsule communicator when Glenn was in orbit and memorably exclaimed “Godspeed, John Glenn!” when Glenn began his trip into orbit, a phrase that has become one of the most popular quotes of the Mercury programme.

Orbital mission

On May 24, 1962, Carpenter’s flight followed on a mission to orbit Earth three times, just like Glenn before him. With science experiments and photographic tasks to perform, Carpenter’s near-five-hour flight required greater pilot involvement than Glenn’s. He seemed to be having a good time even though the cabin started becoming uncomfortably warm.

Trouble, however, was around the corner. While there were technical malfunctions that caused issues, Carpenter too was at fault with his own performance. He did later blame himself in part and so did other NASA officials as Carpenter overshot the landing target and splashed down 400 km from the nearest recovery ship. Carpenter waited safely in his inflated raft as recovery forces took nearly an hour to find him. Carpenter didn’t fly in another mission again.

Sealab II project

Obtaining a leave of absence from NASA, Carpenter became an aquanaut, joining the Navy’s Men-in-the-Sea Project’s Sealab II project in the summer of 1965. He spent 30 days living underwater in the waters off San Diego at about 63 m below the surface.

When he returned to NASA, Carpenter used this experience to good effect as he designed underwater training to prepare astronauts for spacewalks and extravehicular activities. Carpenter was also involved in designing the lunar module, the likes of which landed on the moon as part of the Apollo missions.

Carpenter rejoined the Navy in 1967 as the director of aquanaut operations for Sealab III, before retiring in 1969 to work on a number of business ventures that were related to underwater activities. He pursued both oceanographic and environmental activities until his death in 2013, and also wrote two novels that he called “underwater techno-thrillers”.

For Carpenter, there wasn’t a lot of difference in space and under the seas. He drew parallels between both environments, not just in the training involved and the atmosphere of isolation and confinement that one experiences, but also the people he encountered in both the fields.

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 6:03:57 PM |

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