Under the sea, by way of the stars
Curiosity spawned the far-flung career of Vail resident M. Scott Carpenter, astronaut and deep-sea explorer. He’ll be setting up shop next to Dick Hauserman in the Vail Daily tent Saturday at the Minturn Market, selling his book and signing it. He’ll be present from 9 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.
“For Spacious Skies: The Uncommon Journey of a Mercury Astronaut,” is the story of Carpenter’s life.
“It starts when I’m a child in Colorado,” said the author, “and goes through to my Navy experience and NASA experience.”
Born in Boulder, he discovered Vail the way most people did – as a skier.
“I started when Vail started, in 1963,” he said.
Now, in between book tours and adventure travels, he and his wife call Vail home.
Carpenter joined the Navy in 1949, which led him to NASA. He was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts on April 9, 1959. He flew the second American manned orbital flight on May 24, 1962, whence he piloted his Aurora 7 spacecraft through three revolutions of the earth.
“I really joined the Navy because I was attracted to flying,” he said.
He didn’t have his heart set on being an astronaut for a while, but credits his choice instead to his inquisitive nature.
“I was always curious,” he said. “That’s a function of curiosity.”
Would he call space travel exciting?
After cavorting through space, he took a leave of absence from NASA and participated in the Navy’s Man-in-the-Sea project.
“That, too, for whatever reason, came to me through my curiosity,” he said. “And of course, Cousteau had a lot to do with it, too.”
Jacques Cousteau, the archetypical underwater adventurer, lent a romance to sea voyaging for many people across the globe. Carpenter got caught up in that magic, and went on to lead a team of people in a 45-day experiment that included living on the ocean’s floor. It was a bit different than his tour in Hawaii, swimming in the tropical waters around the islands.
They’re clearer and warmer, he said.
“I was down for 30 days,” he said. “And it was hard work, the water is bitter cold and dark. The people I work with are champs. We brought back a lot of new truths, and we did some seminal work in deep-water habitation. Some of the techniques we developed are in use world-wide.”
Though it’s now common knowledge there are many physical and physiological stresses that accompany being on the ocean floor, before Carpenter and his team went down nobody thought much about that.
“We lived and worked at high pressure,” he said.
Retired, Carpenter spends his time writing, skiing and traveling with his wife. They’re looking forward to traipsing through Africa and South America in the next year, but it won’t be their first visit to either continent.
“My wife and I travel quite a bit, and that’s fun,” he said.
As for his stint at the market, he doesn’t intend to do too much produce shopping.
“That’s my wife’s bailiwick,” he explained. “I’ll be busy at the book stand, signing books and talking to people.”
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.