INSIDE Chico State
0 May 1, 2003
Volume 33 Number 15
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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‘ROCKET-RIDER’
Scott Carpenter Inspires A New Generation

Photo: Scott Carpenter in Chico, April 25, 2003.

Photo: Astronaut Carpenter talks with President John Kennedy after the successful Aurora 7 flight in May 1962.

Photo: Carpenter during recovery, May 1962.

Top photo: Scott Carpenter in Chico, April 25, 2003. Middle photo: Astronaut Carpenter talks with President John Kennedy after the successful Aurora 7 flight in May 1962. Bottom Photo: Carpenter during recovery, May 1962.

Promising that we will be “doing things in space we can’t even imagine now,” original Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter predicted a manned colony on Mars within 50 years and private space travel “perhaps this year.” “We are in the process of moving off our planet,” he proclaimed in his April 22 Founders Week Presidential Lecture, “Dawn of the Space Age and Beyond.”

Carpenter was the second American to orbit the earth, flying his Aurora 7 spacecraft three times around the earth in May 1962, at a maximum altitude of 164 miles.

In his introduction of Carpenter, CSU, Chico President Manuel A. Esteban cited the flight as a “triumph of science and human courage.” Space flight, he said, has come to be regarded as almost routine, but the recent Columbia shuttle tragedy has reminded us of the perilous early days of space travel.

Carpenter said he is often asked if he was afraid. “Nothing worthwhile is unattended by risk,” he said. “If you accept the risk, you just don’t think about it any more. You’re completely detached. It’s real handy.” About the Columbia, he asserted, “Everyone who died knew the risk and would do it again because of its everlasting value to the human race. New knowledge is priceless.”

Sharing stories with an appreciative audience, Carpenter told how he “got into the business.” It was the time of the Cold War, when “we were convinced that our very survival depended on our showing we were better than the Soviets.” He credits the space race with keeping the United States out of war with the Soviet Union, providing “constructive space exploration instead of destructive war.”

He met President Eisenhower’s qualifications that “rocket-riders” should be jet-qualified military flyers with an aeronautical science degree. Another qualification was that they had to be no taller than 5’11”—to fit in the space capsule. “A lot of good men didn’t go to space because they grew too tall,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter’s talk was accompanied by videos of his original flight and more recent space footage, produced with the help of Carpenter’s longtime friend Joe Wills Sr., father of CSU, Chico Director of Public Affairs Joe Wills Jr. Wills Sr., a retired film industry executive, met Carpenter 35 years ago when both were involved in a film project. “When you look into that engineer’s mind of his,” Wills said, “you are just amazed by how smart he is.”

Carpenter’s accomplishments include gaining the unique title of astronaut/aquanaut by spending 30 days in 1965 living and working on the ocean floor in the Navy’s SEALAB II Man-in-the-Sea project, off the coast of Southern California. He also was founder and chief executive of Sea Sciences, Inc., a company involved with ocean resources.

His many awards include the Navy’s Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and NASA Distinguished Service Medal. He has written two “underwater techno-thrillers” and his memoir, For Spacious Skies, co-authored with his daughter, Kristen.

Asked about his “brightest and darkest 10 minutes” in space travel, Carpenter cited the brightest as looking out at the earth from space—“you see your own insignificance.” Of the darkest, he replied: “I don’t dwell on them. You get over accidents and darkness, but you never get over the bright moments.”

Francine Gair

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