Scott Carpenter, one of two remaining astronauts from NASA’s Mercury program and the second American to orbit the earth, died Wednesday at the age of 88. His family did not specify a cause of death, although he had been in hospice care following a recent stroke, the New York Times reports.
Carpenter flew a harrowing mission around the earth in 1962 that was rife with technical and mechanical problems. For an hour after Carpenter’s landing 250 miles from his intended landing spot, the country thought he was dead. Mission Control could locate his Aurora 7 capsule, but it was not immediately clear Carpenter had survived the landing. Nobody knew he was alive until a NASA search plane spotted him in a bright orange life raft.
Carpenter was part of NASA’s initial project to send a manned aircraft into orbit around the earth — dubbed Project Mercury — and served as the backup astronaut for John Glenn, who became the first American to do so. It was Carpenter who said the famous phrase, “Godspeed John Glenn” when he served as Glenn’s Capsule Commander during the mission. Carpenter was also a major character in Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book, The Right Stuff, as well as in the subsequent movie.
Carpenter was also the only astronaut to also become an aquanaut, and spent a month living and researching on the ocean floor in 1967.
In his book of reflections an the early astronauts, Carpenter wrote that he decided to volunteer because, “I thought this was a chance for immortality. Pioneering in space was something I would willingly give my life for.”