It is the aurora as I write this, as seems fitting for astronaut Scott Carpenter, who died yesterday at the age of 88. With his passing, John Glenn becomes the very last member of NASA's original Mercury Seven. In May of 1962, Carpenter piloted the Mercury-Atlas 7, callsign "Aurora 7" -- and the latter title was painted on the capsule itself, which is now displayed in Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.
Scott Carpenter was the 6th human being in space, at a time when going into the vacuum was still largely unknown, and as yet, unknowable in many ways. As the fourth American in space for Project Mercury, and second American to orbit Earth, his skills as a pilot were put to the test in his 3 trips around our planet.
It's strange to think now, but at the time it was the literal truth: before his group, there was no such thing as an astronaut! They were inventing the term as they went along. Their first training protocols and missions would define the job itself!
I was honored beyond measure to meet Scott Carpenter for the first time just this past year, and shake his hand on the anniversary of his Aurora 7 flight. That same evening, I was quite nearly speechless to be seated at a banquet table with him, whereupon I got to ask him some question about Mars, about NASA's current vision (you probably don't want to know his replies), and about the freaking awesome raspberry coconut puff dessert they served, following the filet mignon!
The event was SpaceFestV at the Starr Pass resort in Tucson, AZ. This edited clip was cut from a larger video I made of many speakers. The gentleman at the podium was reminiscing, and introduced Scott Carpenter to the audience, who all stood to applaud this amazing astronaut, aquanaut, test pilot, and Navy man. He had just turned 88 at the time, and it was heart-breaking to see him try to rise for his own ovation, but true to the hero that he was, he immediately applauded us in return.
I'm so sad to realize now that my first experience at any SpaceFest convention was also his last.
Farewell and RIP, astronaut Carpenter! You saw the Earth in a way that so many of us wish we could!
I am so sorry we didn't get to Mars for you. I know that's what you wanted. We will keep trying.