October 5, 2004 by

Gordon Cooper

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Categories: Business, Extraordinary People, Military, Writers/Editors

gcooper.jpgGordon Cooper, one of the original “Mercury Seven” astronauts, died on Oct. 4 of natural causes. He was 77.
Born in Shawnee, Okla., Leroy Gordon Cooper Jr. flew his first plane when he was just seven years old. His father, an Army colonel, took him for a ride in a J-3 Piper Cub and let him take the controls. A love of flying was instantly forged.
Cooper served in the Marine Corps and attended the University of Hawaii before receiving a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army. He later transferred to the Air Force and earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. Cooper was flight-testing experimental aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base in California when he was selected for the Mercury program, the United States’ first manned spaceflight project.
The space pioneer piloted the final flight of Project Mercury in 1963. Inside the ”Faith 7” spacecraft, he orbited the planet 22 times in 34 hours and 20 minutes. He was the first American to sleep in space and on the launch pad, and the last astronaut to fly in space alone.
Two years later, Cooper served as command pilot of the Gemini 5 mission. He and Charles Conrad spent eight days establishing a space endurance record; they traveled 3.3 million miles in 190 hours, 56 minutes, thereby proving that humans could survive in a weightless state for the amount of time it would take to travel to the moon. Only three Mercury astronauts remain: John H. Glenn Jr., the former senator from Ohio; Walter Schirra Jr.; and Scott Carpenter.
Cooper retired from the Air Force in 1970 and delved into numerous business ventures. He received many honors during his career, including the Air Force Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross and NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal. A school and a library were named in his honor.
When his autobiography, “Leap of Faith: An Astronaut’s Journey Into the Unknown,” was published in 2000, the book sparked a bit of controversy for revealing Cooper’s interest in UFOs and his belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life. He also was immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s book “The Right Stuff” and in the 1983 movie of the same name.
Astronauts Mike Fincke and Gennady Padalka, who are currently living on the International Space Station, honored Cooper’s memory by ringing the ship’s bell three times.

2 Responses to Gordon Cooper

  1. Keith R. Wood

    The youngest of the Seven. The one chosen to close out Mercury. His low level of anxiety is still a legend at NASA. Small wonder that “The Right Stuff” spent so much time on Gordo’s life.

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