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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 make an orbital spaceflight. Carpenter orbited the Earth three times in Aurora 7 in 4 hours and 54 minutes, journeying 80,000 miles.

A guidance error on his return caused him to overshoot his splashdown target by 250 miles. Carpenter was one of the original seven astronauts for Mercury Project selected by NASA in 1959.

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


Scott Waves From Raft

2 Para-Medics Dropped To Keep Capsule Afloat


CAPE CANAVERAL—Astronaut Scott Carpenter, 27, rode three times in orbit around the earth today but gave recovery forces an anxious 40 minutes before they spotted him sitting in a life raft on the Atlantic Ocean.

He waved at a Navy patrol plane as it flew over and apparently is all right, officials said.

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

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

Carpenter’s capsule came down 200 miles past the intended recovery area, catching planes and ships out of position.

Officials lost radio contact with it as it re-entered the earth’s atmosphere because of an ionized heat layer. No further communication with Carpenter could be made and his fate was unknown until the Navy plane picked up a beacon signal, then saw him.

Meanwhile, the two twin jet helicopters were sent from the aircraft carrier Intrepid 20 miles away. The destroyer John R. Pierce steamed at flank speed but estimated it would not reach the area for five hours.

The Virgin Island coast Guard station said Carpenter apparently had no apparently problems. He was sighted shortly after 11:20 a.m. San Diego time after hitting the water at 10:41.

Earlier officials had considered ending his flight after the second orbit when he had trouble with excessive fuel use in the altitude control system.

But he was ordered to switch to manual control and conserve fuel. The decision was made to let the Navy lieutenant commander, 37, continue.

One Minute Late

His retro rockets apparently fired almost one minute late over the California coast. This would account for his overshooting the landing area.

Carpenter completed his first orbit at 7:19 and the second at 8:47, despite fuel supply problems in his capsule’s automatic control system.

‘Status Excellent’

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

His first words after launch were, “My status is excellent.” At the moment he was riding through thrust stresses which multiplied his 155-pound weight about 7 1/2 times.

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

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