VAIL — Astronaut Scott Carpenter flew to the heavens, and the top of Vail Mountain on a powder day was as close as he could get on this earth.
Carpenter, astronaut and Vail resident, died early Thursday morning. He was 88.
Carpenter was the second American astronaut to orbit Earth and lived in Vail for more than 25 years.
“He had that worldwide perspective of having seen the entire planet,” Patty Carpenter, Scott’s wife said Thursday afternoon. “After space and under water, the next best view for him was looking at the Gore Range.”
“We’d stand at the top of Vail Mountain on a powder day thankful that we are lucky enough to live here,” Patty said.
Carpenter suffered a stroke earlier and was in Denver Hospice at the time of his death, Patty said.
“They’re a fantastic organization and helped us through our grief, and certainly helped Scott,” Patty said.
Carpenter’s death leaves John Glenn, 92, as the last living member of the Mercury 7 team, NASA’s first group of astronauts. Carpenter was selected in 1959 from more than 100 candidates.
Carpenter was a Vail fixture, stunning people in recent years as they strolled through Vail’s farmers market. They’d spot him sitting in a booth, greeting people who’d done a double take and could barely believe that there — right there! — was an astronaut and American hero, who was smiling at them and selling books on a warm, sunny Rocky Mountain afternoon.
“He loved Vail, not just for the skiing but for the wonderful people who live there,” Patty said.
During his first trip to Vail, April 1963, Carpenter was making his way up Bridge Street to find a place to fix his torn ski pants. He strolled into Vail Blanche ski shop and was immediately recognized. One thing led to another, and two days later, Carpenter was skiing down China Bowl with Dick Hauserman and some other Vail pioneers — this was decades before China Bowl was open to skiers.
“Having been born and raised in Boulder, and having long-time family roots in Colorado, I didn’t need to be reminded of the joys of skiing,” Carpenter wrote in the forward to Hauserman’s book, “The Inventors of Vail.”
Carpenter was an accomplished horseman. His whole family plays the guitar.
He was a great athlete, gymnast and diver, and went to Russia with the national trampoline team after his space flight, Patty said.
He loved to camp at his ranch in Steamboat with his family, and he loved to ski, Patty said.
‘God speed, John Glenn’
Carpenter is fondly remembered for his radio call, “God speed, John Glenn,” when Friendship 7 lifted off and Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, Feb. 20, 1962. Carpenter was Glenn’s backup pilot for that flight.
Three months later, May 24, 1962, Carpenter became the second American in orbit when he piloted his Aurora 7 capsule through three orbits around Earth.
That made him the fourth American in space, the second to orbit the Earth, and the sixth man worldwide to leave the planet.
During his Mercury-Atlas 7 mission, Carpenter circled the Earth three times. He was in space four hours and 56 minutes. He became the first American to eat solid food in space, energy snacks called Space Food Sticks, small square cubes composed of chocolate, figs and dates mixed with high-protein cereals.
Carpenter called the last 30 minutes of his flight “a dicey time.” He landed 250 miles from his intended landing spot. Navy crews finally spotted the orange life raft he was floating in.
Shorty Powers, the voice of NASA’s mission control, finally announced, “An aircraft in the landing area has sighted the capsule and a life raft with a gentleman by the name of Carpenter riding in it.”
Lt. Cmdr. Carpenter and his family were guests of President Kennedy in June 1962 after the Carpenters were honored at parades in Denver and Boulder and honored at City Hall in New York.
At commencement a few days following his space flight, the University of Colorado gave Carpenter a degree in aeronautical engineering, citing his “unique experience with heat transfer during his re-entry.” He had not completed a course on heat transfer as a CU senior in 1949.
Aurora 7 was Carpenter’s only spaceflight. A motorcycle accident in 1964 left him with an injured left arm.
He moved from outer space to inner space when, in the summer of 1965 he became the first astronaut to become an aquanaut. He spent 30 days on board the Navy’s Sealab II, an experimental habitat in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego. He worked on the ocean floor, 205 feet beneath the surface.
When he returned to NASA, he helped develop underwater training to prepare astronauts for space walks.
Since Carpenter’s stint aboard Sealab, 38 astronauts have followed him into the ocean.
Carpenter retired from the Navy in 1969 and pursued several private businesses, including one as a consultant for spaceflight and oceanography movies.
He wrote two novels as well as a memoir titled “For Spacious Skies,” his 2003 autobiography written with his daughter Kris Stoever.
Carpenter was born May 1, 1925, in Boulder. His family moved to New York City when his father, Marion, got a job as a research chemist. His mother, Florence, contracted tuberculosis when Scott was a child, and she took Scott back to Boulder when she returned to be treated.
He joined the Navy as an aviation cadet in 1943, but World War II ended before he earned his wings. He entered the University of Colorado afterward and received a Navy commission in 1949.
He flew patrol planes in the Pacific during the Korean War, then trained as a test pilot. In April 1959, he was among the seven military pilots chosen as the Mercury astronauts.
He is survived by Patty Carpenter, his wife, and his children: Jay Carpenter, Kris Carpenter Stoever, Candy Carpenter, Matt Carpenter, Nick Carpenter and Zack Carpenter, one granddaughter and five step grandchildren.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.