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the fourth American to go into space, and the second to orbit the Earth
Malcolm Scott Carpenter was born in Boulder, Colorado, on May 1, 1925, to Dr. Marion Carpenter and Florence Kelso (Noxon) Carpenter. His parents separated when he was 3 years old and when his mother was hospitalized with tuberculosis, he was raised by a family friend. He attended public schools in Boulder, graduating from high school in 1943.
After high school, Carpenter entered the Navy's V-5 flight training program at the University of Colorado. After a year there, he spent six months in training at St. Mary's Pre-Flight School in Moraga, California, and four months in primary flight training at Ottumwa, Iowa. When the V-5 program ended at the close of World War II, Carpenter entered the University of Colorado, graduating with a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1949.
After receiving his degree, Carpenter joined the Navy and received flight training from November 1949 to April 1951 at Pensacola, Florida and Corpus Christi, Texas. He then 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, Carpenter was assigned to Patrol Squadron 6, based at Barbers Point, Hawaii. During the Korean conflict, 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 (NATC) in Patuxent River, Maryland. After completion of his training, he was assigned to the Electronics Test Division of the NATC, where he conducted flight tests in a variety of Naval aircraft. He then attended Naval 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.
Carpenter was serving aboard the Hornet when he received orders to report to Washington in connection with an unspecified special project, and on April 9, 1959 learned that he had been chosen as one of the "Original Seven" Mercury astronauts. Upon reporting for duty at the Space Task Group at Langley Field, Virginia, he was assigned a specialty area in training involving communications and navigational aids, because of his extensive prior experience in that field in the Navy. 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. Slayton due to a heart condition, 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. His spacecraft attained a maximum altitude 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. The flight plan included numerous scientific experiments, including observations of flares fired on Earth and the deployment of a tethered balloon. The purpose of the balloon deployment was 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 -- it got only 10 inches wide instead of 30 -- 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, and determined that orange was the most visible, a color NASA used in subsequent orbital rendezvous procedures. It was impossible for Carpenter to measure drag, and the balloon proved to be extremely difficult to jettison once the experiment was concluded. Despite the difficulties with the balloon experiment, NASA considered the mission a general success. The only major reported problem was an overexpenditure of fuel during Carpenter's various manuevering tasks. What neither Carpenter nor ground controllers did not know was that the overexpenditure of fuel was caused by a malfunctioning pitch horizon scanner (PHS), and this malfunction would cause far more problems than the balloon experiment had.
When Carpenter fired the retrorockets for re-entry he found that Aurora 7 was canted 25 degrees to the right of where it should have been. Because the capsule was not pointed in an absolute straight line along its path when the rockets fired, it did not slow down as much as it should have, causing it to overshoot its splashdown zone by 175 miles. In addition, the retrorockets did not deliver their full thrust, adding another 60 miles to the overshoot. And then, 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 hit the retro-button himself a second later. Two seconds passed before they finally went off. At the speed of 5 miles per second, this lapse of three seconds added another 15 miles of overshoot. 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. Despite all of the difficulties, Carpenter was able to "forcefully" keep the capsule on a proper re-entry course. Although the re-entry was far rougher than normal, the capsule splashed down safely, but 250 miles away from the recovery team.
Soon after splashdown, Aurora 7 submerged just long enough to allow a small amount of water to get into the cockpit. Having been informed that it would take at least an hour for the recovery team to reach him, Carpenter decided to get out and wait in the "rescue raft," and it was from that craft that he was recovered.
In 1963, Carpenter monitored the design and development of the lunar module for the Apollo project. He also served temporarily as Executive Assistant to the Director of the Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston.
In the spring of 1965, 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. For his participation in the experiment, he was awarded the Navy's Legion of Merit award.
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). On July 16, 1964, in Hamilton, Bermuda, Carpenter lost control of the motorcycle he was driving and broke his lower left arm. The compound fracture eliminated Carpenter from participation in a Navy test in which he would have been submerged in a diving chamber with four Navy divers at a depth of 192 feet. This accident also removed him from flight status, and he resigned from NASA on August 10, 1967. He subsequently worked on the SEALAB III project, and retired from the Navy on July 1, 1969.
After retiring from the Navy, Carpenter worked as an engineering consultant, a wasp breeder, and a novelist. He died in Denver, Colorado, on October 10, 2013.
Carpenter married Rene Louise Price on September 9, 1948. The couple had four children -- Marc Scott, Keisten Elaine, Candace Noxon, and Robyn Jay -- before divorcing. In 1972, he married Maria Roach, with whom he had two children -- Matthew Scott and Nicholas Andre. The second marriage also ended in divorce, and, in 1988, Carpenter married Barbara Curtin. He and Barbara had one child -- Zachary Scott -- before that marriage ended in divorce.
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This page was last updated on 10/10/2017.