From the archives: 60 years ago, astronaut Scott Carpenter became the 4th American in space

Sixty years ago, Scott Carpenter became the fourth American astronaut in space and the second to perform orbital spaceflight. Carpenter circled the Earth three times in Aurora 7 in 4 hours and 54 minutes, traveling 80,000 miles.

A guidance error on her return caused her to overshoot her landing target by 250 miles. Carpenter was one of the first seven Project Mercury astronauts selected by NASA in 1959.

From the Evening Tribune, Thursday, May 24, 1962:


Scott waves from the raft

2 paramedics dropped to keep the capsule afloat


CAPE CANAVERAL – Astronaut Scott Carpenter, 27, orbited the earth three times today but gave recovery forces 40 anxious minutes before spotting him sitting in a life raft on the ‘Atlantic Ocean.

He waved at a Navy patrol plane as it flew overhead and apparently all was well, officials said.

An Air Force rescue plane dropped two paramedics into the water along with a 20-man life raft, supplies and equipment to keep the Aurora 7 space capsule afloat.

Officials said Carpenter likely left the capsule because of the heat inside.

Carpenter’s capsule descended 200 miles beyond the intended recovery area, catching planes and ships out of position.

Officials lost radio contact with it as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere due to a layer of ionized heat. No further communication with Carpenter could be established, and his fate was unknown until Navy aircraft picked up a beacon signal and then saw him.

Meanwhile, the two twin-engine helicopters were dispatched from the aircraft carrier Intrepid 20 miles away. The destroyer John R. Pierce steamed at broadside speed but estimated she would not reach the area for five hours.

The Virgin Island Coast Guard Station said Carpenter apparently had no issues. He was spotted shortly after 11:20 a.m. San Diego time after hitting the water at 10:41 a.m.

Previously, officials had considered terminating its flight after the second orbit when it had problems with excessive fuel consumption in the altitude control system.

But he was told to switch to manual control and save fuel. The decision was made to let the 37-year-old Navy lieutenant commander continue.

One minute late

Its retro rockets apparently fired almost a minute late over the California coast. This would explain his overrun of the landing zone.

Carpenter completed its first orbit at 7:19 a.m. and the second at 8:47 a.m., despite fueling problems in its capsule’s automatic control system.

“Excellent status”

It was hoisted into space at 5:45 a.m. San Diego time atop a modified Atlas ballistic missile after the smoothest countdown yet. Five minutes later, officials announced that the space capsule had separated from the booster and was in the desired orbit.

His first words after the launch were: “My status is great.” Right now, he was going through thrust stresses that multiplied his 155-pound weight about 7 1/2 times.

It was a perfect launch. As Carpenter passed over Bermuda, fellow astronaut Virgil I. Grissom reported from a control station that Aurora 7 was in a safe and stable orbit.

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