Frequently Asked Questions for Scott Carpenter
What did you think of
The Right Stuff?
Part of my affection for the
book comes from my great affection for Tom Wolfe. But
trying to put that aside, I believe the book itself
accurately depicts in all its essential details
Project Mercury. Tom takes literary license with
nonessential details. Itís a fine book and made a fine
movie, but the movie took even more license with
nonessential details than Wolfe took in the book. My
opinion of the book and movie is not widely shared by
the rest of the Mercury guys. I liked the movie. But I
wasnít portrayed in much detail and the Carpenter
character you saw didnít invite controversy.
Is the face on Mars really
Do I really have to answer
What advances have been made in
undersea exploration since Sealab?
Weíve developed much better
closed-circuit SCUBA equipment; better breathing
mixtures (tri-mix) and weíve taken some major strides in
keeping divers warm in cold water. Diver-to-diver and
diver-to-surface communications have been vastly
improved too; although limits still exist, we can go
much deeper now.
If you could have chosen your
ideal spaceflight, what type would it be and what would
you have hoped to accomplish?
Everybodyís dream spaceflight
was a lunar landing. For me a lunar landing offered the
greatest opportunity for bringing back new truths and
What lessons from Sealab could
benefit development of bases on the moon and Mars?
Well, Sealab was a very
close-at-hand, totally isolated habitat and was an ideal
place for the study of long-term crew interaction in a
hostile environment. We had three crews of 10 men each
for Sealab 2 [JulyĖSeptember 1965]. Itís more realistic
than the polar unit NASAís proposing. NASA is working
with NOAA on a shallow habitat off Key Largo, Florida.
The project is called NEEMO Aquarius and itís 45 ft.
down and has a crew of six. Itís a very effective
training device in many ways, particularly in EVA
Would you fly on the shuttle?
Of course. But I donít really
want to spend two years training first.
In your opinion, should we have
an agency for undersea exploration like NASA is for
Well, yes. But we have such an
agency in NOAA.
Do you envision robotic
undersea explorers that function like our space probes?
Sure. We have some of
thoseólike Jason, which was Bob Ballardís robotic
vehicle. Theyíre irreplaceableóas are those in space.
Would you go to the ISS as a
Iíd rather have some work to
do. Iíd like to go with a purpose rather than for my own
enjoyment. Bringing back new truths and new knowledge.
Whatís your opinion about the
condition and ecology of the oceans?
The oceans are in dire straits.
Weíre overfishing. Weíre polluting. And we donít appear
to understand that the ocean has limits. One would have
to write a book to document all the abuses weíre
inflicting on our oceans.
After your Mercury flight, why
didnít you go on to fly Gemini or Apollo missions?
When I came back from my flight
[Aurora 7, May 24, 1962], I had been single-minded about
earth orbit for too long and had been so heavily
involved with preparations for both Johnís flight [Friendship
7 MA-6óeditorís note] and then my own that I wanted,
and needed, a change of pace and didnít want to get back
in to flight rotation right away.
I had flown in space, achieving
a goal Iíd had since I learned about Project Mercury in
1959. Sealab at the time was a more attractive
opportunity for me. It was a new challenge.
After a while, restored by the
underwater work, I tried to regain my flight status. I
thought a lunar landing would be a rewarding challenge.
But the operation to repair the injury to my left arm
did not succeed. I was medically grounded. I couldnít
have a Gemini or Apollo flight, even if I wanted one.
Did you train any astronauts
later on, one on one?
I canít rememberósome of my
ideas for physical conditioning programs at NASA
inspired some head scratching (fencing) or produced
injury (the trampoline). I had an idea for neutral
buoyancy training for EVA that I kept proposing for
years. It wasnít approved until 1966, and I left NASA in
I do remember training Buzz [Aldrin]
one on one. I remember his drive and general budding
excellenceóhe was quick to learn.
Was Gordo Cooper the "best
pilot you ever saw," the way Tom Wolfe tells the story
in The Right Stuff ?
No, he wasnít. And Gordo
laughed about the legend. He himself believed it was a
preposterous idea but accepted it as part of the color
of the Mercury Seven, thanks to Tom Wolfe. And the
legend created evidence that an attitude, "I am the
best," kind of prevailed in the group.
You canít prove youíre the
best, but you can think it! The actual best in
any group doesnít have to prove it or say it. It is a
fact evident to everyone.
What do you think is the
future, near- and far-term, of human space exploration?
The farthest we can look right
now is human habitation of Mars. In the near term it is
human habitation of the moon.
Underwater cities: strictly "Aquaman"
or maybe someday?
Possible perhaps at 1
atmosphere. But I donít see the purpose of a
1-atmosphere habitat. To live at pressure has some
advantage for an industrial community. But no advantage
for residential or tourist communities.
Where is the Scott Carpenter
Pool in Boulder, CO?
It's located at 1505 30th
Street in Boulder. It is currently undergoing renovation
and should reopen at the end of May 2011. You can visit
web site here. Here are a couple of photos of it
during its renovation