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"About Scott" was written and updated on May 1, 2012 by Cmdr. Carpenter on his 87th Birthday


Scott Carpenter, a dynamic pioneer of modern exploration, has the unique distinction of being the first human ever to penetrate both inner and outer space, thereby acquiring the dual title Astronaut/Aquanaut.

Malcolm Scott Carpenter was born on May 1, 1925, in Boulder, Colorado, to parents Dr. Marion Scott Carpenter and Florence Kelso (Noxon) Carpenter. His parents separated when his mother was hospitalized with tuberculosis and he was raised by his maternal grandparents. He attended primary and secondary school in Boulder, graduating from high school in 1943. After one semester at Colorado University in Boulder, Carpenter entered the Navy's V-12a program at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.  The program was designed to give potential pilots advanced academic training before they received basic experience in aircraft.  After a year there, he spent six months in training at St. Mary's Preflight School, Moraga, California, and four months in primary flight training at Ottumwa, Iowa. When the Navy's flight training program ended at the close of World War II, Carpenter entered the University of Colorado to major in aeronautical engineering. He received a degree from CU in 1962.

Carpenter rejoined the Navy and received flight training from November 1949 to April 1951 at Pensacola, Florida and Corpus Christi, Texas. He spent three months in the Fleet Airborne Electronics Training School, San Diego, California, and was in a Lockheed P2V transitional training unit at Whidbey Island, Washington, until October 1951.

In November 1951, he was assigned to Patrol Squadron 6 based at Barbers Point, Hawaii. During the Korean conflict, he was with Patrol Squadron 6 engaged in anti-submarine patrol, shipping surveillance and aerial mining activities in the Yellow Sea, South China Sea and the Formosa Straits. In 1954 he entered the Navy Test Pilot School at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland. After completion of his training, he was assigned to the Electronics Test Division of the NATC. In this assignment Carpenter conducted flight test projects in a variety of  Navy airplanes including multi- and single-engine jet aircraft and propeller-driven fighters, attack planes, patrol bombers and seaplanes.  He then attended the Navy General Line School at Monterey, California, for ten months in 1957 and the Naval Air Intelligence School, Washington, DC for an additional eight months in 1957 and 1958. In August 1958 he was assigned to the USS Hornet, anti-submarine aircraft carrier, as Air Intelligence Officer, where he was serving when he received  secret orders to report to Washington in connection with an unspecified special project. Stopping in an airport on the way to Washington, he picked up a Time magazine and learned that the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had identified 110 candidates, all military pilots, from which to take volunteers for America's first manned venture into space. It  turned out that the unspecified project was the reason for his secret orders.

He was chosen as one of the "Original Seven" Mercury astronauts, and on April 9 1959,  was assigned to the Manned Spacecraft Center (then Space Task Group) at Langley Field, Virginia. Upon reporting for duty, he was given a specialty area  involving communications and navigation because of his extensive prior experience in those fields. He served as John Glenn's backup pilot during pre-flight preparations for America's first manned orbital flight, MA-6.

When NASA grounded MA-7 pilot Donald K. (Deke) Slayton due the idiopathic atrial fibrillation of  his heart. Carpenter was selected as prime pilot for that mission with Walter M. Schirra, Jr., as his backup pilot.

On May 24, 1962, Carpenter lifted off aboard the spacecraft he dubbed Aurora 7 sitting atop the Mercury-Atlas 7 rocket. His spacecraft attained a maximum altitude (apogee) of 164 miles and an orbital velocity of 17, 532 miles per hour. His primary goal during the three-orbit mission was to determine whether an astronaut could work in space, a major stepping stone towards a lunar landing. The flight plan included numerous scientific experiments, including observations of flares fired on Earth and the deployment of a tethered balloon. The balloon deployment was an important experiment, to measure the drag of the balloon in the very thin atmosphere and observe its behavior, its distance from the capsule and the various colors it was painted. But the balloon did not inflate properly and it took longer than was expected for it to reach the end of its 100-foot nylon tether. Carpenter was, however, able to judge its colors—the orange being the most visible, which was a clue NASA used for painting objects necessary for orbital rendezvous procedures. It was impossible for Carpenter to measure drag of the balloon and it proved to be extremely difficult to jettison once the experiment was concluded. The switch that was meant to release the balloon did not operate and Aurora 7 continued to trail the balloon until retro-fire. While this experiment was underway both the cabin and suit temperature control systems began to malfunction and the cabin temperature went up to 160 degrees before it could be brought back under control.

During the first pass over Australia, Carpenter inadvertently neglected to shut off one attitude control  system when switching to another, and doubled, for a time,  the fuel expenditure. The resulting fuel state became critical during reentry.  During the rest of the flight he fell further and further behind the flight plan, which he said later was much too ambitious.

While over Hawaii  just prior to the preparation for retro fire, the mysterious luminous particles, which John Glenn had seen and called fireflies; began to appear in the window, which looked back at the flight path. Carpenter's maneuvers and investigation proved them to be ice particles  formed on the outside of the capsule by the frozen  water vapor that was vented to the vacuum of space by the cabin cooling system.

At the time of retro-fire, Carpenter believed that he had brought the capsule to the proper attitude. He found out later that this was not correct. The small end of the capsule was canted 25 degrees to the right of where it should have been, an error in yaw of which he was unaware, due to the intermittent failure of the horizon scanner and the associated attitude indicators. This meant that when the rockets fired, the capsule was not pointed in an absolute straight line along its path and so it did not slow down as much as it should have. This accounted for 175 miles of the 250-mile overshoot. But several other things went wrong in addition to that. First, the retrorockets did not deliver the full thrust that was expected of them. This loss of thrust accounted for 60 miles of the overshoot, and on top of all this, the three retros fired approximately three seconds late. They were designed to fire automatically, but they did not. Carpenter watched the clock pass the correct instant, and then depressed the retro-button himself a second later. Two seconds passed before they finally went off and at a  speed of 5 miles per second, the lapse of three seconds accounted for another 15 miles in the overshoot.

In between the time of retrorocket firing and the moment Aurora 7 began its entry through the atmosphere, things were "pretty tight," as Carpenter puts it. The fuel supply was critically low, and it was unclear as to whether or not there would be enough fuel to keep the capsule in the proper trim for the long glide back to Earth. If it came through at the wrong angle and the fuel was exhausted, Carpenter would have been unable to control the capsule during descent and the chances of surviving such a reentry were not good. He learned that though the manual tank still registered 7 percent, it was really empty, and only 15 percent of the fuel supply remained in the automatic tank for the whole reentry. He was dangerously short.

Carpenter maneuvered the capsule gingerly, keeping the horizon in view through the window, and trying to use as little fuel as possible. He held the position steady and when he felt the first oscillations he knew that the capsule was encountering the denser atmosphere. They were welcome however, because they meant that aerodynamic pressures were being exerted against the capsule and would help keep it on an even keel on the way down.

Except for the overshoot it was a nominal  reentry. The ride most of the way was smooth and Carpenter and his Aurora 7 spacecraft were headed in at a good angle. When he glanced out the window, Carpenter noticed an orange ring of fiery particles stretching out like a wake behind the capsule. These were tiny pieces of the ablative heatshield which had melted off and were carrying some of the intense heat away with them. The peak Gs lasted longer than expected and on the way down he had to inhale more deeply and more frequently.  The G forces tapered off at 120,000 feet, and the capsule and Carpenter were falling approximately 600 miles per hour. The oscillations built up rapidly and Carpenter used the very last of his fuel trying to control it, he was concerned that the capsule might topple over completely and start coming down topside first. If this were to happen the drogue parachute could get fouled, and unable to pull out the main chute. The oscillations finally began to diminish and at 26,000 feet, Carpenter pressed the button to deploy the drogue chute.  The flight plan called for the drogue to be deployed automatically at 21,000 feet, however Carpenter felt he needed it sooner to help damp the remaining oscillations. The six-foot drogue came out in good shape, and the descent stabilized. The altimeter swung towards 10,000 feet, the point at which the main chute was supposed to come out automatically. When it did not, Carpenter allowed 500 feet more and then pulled the ring. It deployed perfectly, an orange and white canopy, perfectly shaped, and drawn tight as it began to support the capsule's weight.

Carpenter had no way of knowing that he had overshot his landing target area by 250 miles. He had experienced the normal communications black-out during reentry as the ionization barrier built up around the capsule, and neither the Cape nor Carpenter could hear each other. Once Aurora 7 passed that phase of reentry, Carpenter picked up a transmission from Gus Grissom, second American in space and capsule communicator (CAPCOM) at the Cape Canaveral Control Center. He advised Carpenter that he had overshot his target area and that he should expect a wait of approximately an hour on the water for recovery. Grissom also informed him that a plane carrying paramedics was on its way to the landing area to give him assistance. Tracking devices had computed Carpenter's landing point as he descended, so the Control Center knew fairly well where he was, but it was clear that he had overshot by so far that he was out of range of the communications network.

After being pushed into the pool at the Scott
Carpenter Park, Boulder, CO 1963 dedication

Most of NASA's communications between the capsule and the ground were made on a line-of-sight basis. As long as the capsule was at orbital altitude, the radio transmissions carried easily to the next tracking station. However, the lower the capsule became, the shorter the range of communications became until when Carpenter reached parachute level at 2,000 feet, there was no one close enough to hear him. He did pick up signals from the stronger ground transmitters, which is how he heard Grissom's transmissions, but his were too weak for anyone to read. He made several calls as he parachuted down, but when no answer was received he knew that no one could read his transmissions.

In accordance with established  water landing procedures, Carpenter  proceeded to egress the capsule and wait in the raft. He removed his helmet, removed the right half of the instrument panel to make an exit and then squeezed his way up past the instrument panel. It is not an easy exit but it was well practiced. He opened the hatch on the small end of the craft, put the camera he had been using during the mission in a safe place near the opening and dropped the life raft into the water. He got into it before he realized that it was upside down. He climbed out into the water, turned the raft over and got back in. Then he tied the raft to the capsule so they wouldn't drift apart and turned on the SARAH (Search And Rescue And Homing) beacon which would assist the recovery plane home in on his position.

Approximately 45 minutes after his splashdown and 1000 miles southeast of the Cape, many planes began to appear.  He signaled them with a small hand mirror and they began to circle his position. Not long after that, there were planes all around his landing area. Two paramedics jumped into the ocean and proceeded to attach a collar to the capsule and to check on the astronaut. Carpenter offered them food and water from his survival kit, grateful for their presence, but they told him they weren't hungry.

It was another two hours before a helicopter from the USS Intrepid could pick up the astronaut. Almost an hour and a half later, the second American astronaut to orbit the earth stepped out onto the deck of the Intrepid to be taken back to Grand Turk Island for debriefing.

In 1962 and 1963, he monitored the design and development of the lunar module for the Apollo project and served  as Executive Assistant to the Director of the Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston.

During this time he became fascinated by the underwater work being done by the French oceanographer J.Y.Cousteau in his Conshelf program. He saw many parallels between that work and the  work being done by the American space program . He obtained  a leave of absence from NASA to join the Conshelf program but Cousteau suggested that the technology transfer from space to the ocean was a good idea, but it would be better directed to the U.S. Navy's SeaLab  program, with which was unknown to Carpenter. It was similar to  the French Conshelf program but conducted in American waters and by Carpenter's parent service.

He managed a transfer back to the Navy, and while temporarily assigned to the  SeaLab  Project in Hamilton, Bermuda in July, Carpenter lost control of the motorcycle he was driving and broke his lower left arm. The compound fracture eliminated Carpenter from participation in the Sea Lab 1 project in which  he would have been submerged in a underwater habitat  with four Navy divers at a depth of 192 feet.

The SeaLab1 project was soon followed by the SeaLab II project and in the spring of 1965, and, again on leave from NASA, he participated as an aquanaut in the U.S. Navy's SEALAB II project. In this capacity, he acted as Training Officer for the crew and was Officer-in-Charge of the submerged diving teams during the operation. He spent 30 days living and working in SEALAB II, 205 feet below the surface on the ocean floor off the coast of La Jolla, California.  Carpenter led two of  the three teams of Navy men and civilians during the 45-day experiment. At one point he spoke by phone to the crew of Gemini 5, original Mercury astronaut L. Gordon Cooper and "New Nine" astronaut Charles L. "Pete" Conrad, orbiting overhead. For his participation in the SeaLab II experiment, he was awarded the Navy's Legion of Merit medal.  

After the SEALAB II experiment, Carpenter returned to the space program and was responsible for liaison with the Navy for underwater zero-gravity training (neutral buoyancy). But in 1967, he returned to the Navy’s Deep Submergence Systems Project (DSSP) and was  appointed  Director of Aquanaut Operations during the SEALAB III experiment. The DSSP office was responsible for directing the Navy’s Saturation Diving Program, which included development of deep-ocean search, rescue, salvage, ocean engineering, and Man-in-the-Sea capabilities. SeaLab III was a very ambitious experiment which would have repeated much of the work done by the previous two SeaLab experiments but at the much greater depth of 600 feet.  After many delays, equipment failures, and other major difficulties, including flooding of the habitat, and finally, the loss of  Barry Canon, one of the divers, the troublesome project was canceled.

Carpenter had become  the first person to explore both of humanity's great remaining frontiers, the ocean and President Kennedy's "New Ocean": space. After the SEALAB II experiment, Carpenter returned to the space program and was responsible for liaison with the Navy for underwater zero-gravity training (neutral buoyancy).

Upon retirement from the Navy in 1969,after over 28 years of service, Carpenter founded and was chief executive officer of Sea Sciences, Inc., a venture capital corporation active in developing programs aimed at enhanced utilization of ocean resources and improved health of the planet. In pursuit of these and other objectives, he worked closely with the French oceanographer Jacques Yves Cousteau and members of his Calypso team. He has dived in most of the world’s oceans, including the Arctic under ice.

As a consultant to sport and professional diving equipment manufacturers, he has contributed to design improvements in diving instruments, underwater breathing equipment, swimmer propulsion units, small submersibles and other underwater devices.

Additional projects brought to fruition by his innovative guidance have involved biological pest control and the production of energy from agricultural and industrial waste. He has also been instrumental in the design and improvement of several types of waste handling and waste-transfer equipment.

Carpenter continues to apply his knowledge of aerospace and ocean engineering as a consultant to industry and the private sector. He lectures frequently in the U.S. and abroad on the history and future of ocean and space technology, the impact of scientific and technological advance on human affairs, and man’s continuing search for excellence.

He has appeared as television spokesman for many major corporations, including General Motors (Oldsmobile), Standard Oil of California, Nintendo, and Atari; and has hosted and narrated a number of television documentaries. He has also served as actor/consultant to the film industry in the fields of space flight, oceanography and the global environment.

He has written two novels, both dubbed “underwater techno-thrillers.” The first was entitled “The Steel Albatross.” The second, a sequel, was called “Deep Flight.” His memoir, “For Spacious Skies”, which he co-authored with his daughter Kristen Stoever, published by Harcourt in January 2003.

Carpenter is an honorary fellow in the Institute of Environmental Sciences, a member of the Association of Space Explorers–USA, and a member of Delta Tau Delta. He has been awarded the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, NASA Distinguished Service Medal, Navy Astronaut Wings, University of Colorado Recognition Medal, National Aeronautic Association's Collier Trophy, New York City Gold Medal of Honor, Elisha Kent Kane Medal, Boy Scouts of America Silver Buffalo, and Numismatica Italiana Award.

Carpenter is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 160 pounds. He has brown hair and green eyes. He was married to the former Rene Louise Price of Clinton, Iowa, on September 9, 1948; they had four children : Marc Scott, born November 29, 1949; Robyn Jay, born March 4, 1962. 1949; Kristen Elaine, born June 26, 1955; Candace Noxon, born October 8, 1956.  they were later divorced. He married the former Maria Roach, daughter of film producer Hal Roach, in 1972, and married the former Barbara Curtin in 1988. They have since divorced.  He has two children from his second marriage: Matthew Scott and Nicholas Andre, and one child from his third marriage: Zachary Scott. 

He lives with his wife, the former Patty Barrett, in Vail, Colorado. Between them they have nine children and six grandchildren.


Carpenter’s awards include

The Navy’s Legion of Merit
The Distinguished Flying Cross
The NASA Distinguished Service Medal
U.S. Navy Astronaut Wings
The University of Colorado Recognition Medal
The Collier Trophy
The New York City Gold Medal of Honor
The Elisha Kent Kane Medal
The Ustica Gold Trident
San Diego Air and Space Museum Inductee
Founder and Inductee - Astronaut Scholarship Foundation
The Boy Scouts of America Silver Buffalo
Maritime Patrol Association’s Hall of Honor
He has been awarded seven honorary degrees.









Scott Carpenter gives his opinion of "In The Shadow of the Moon"
at the very end of this funny video from author Francis French

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