It was 50 years ago today that astronaut Scott Carpenter became the second American to orbit the Earth. This was NASA′s fourth manned Mercury mission. Following the success of John Glenn′s 3 orbit flight in February, Carpenter was to carry out more experiments, including eating solid food in zero gravity for the first time. But Carpenter had other ideas and was determined to solve the mystery of the space fire-flies that his friend John Glenn reported seeing during his historic flight. Scott used his thrusters liberally, watching for any correlation with his Mercury spacecraft and the fire flies swarming about him.
As it turns out, the ′fire flies′ were just ice particles, formed from condensation outside the space capsule. But the damage had been done with Carpenter using up his precious fuel. Ground controllers were getting annoyed and ordered him to fire his retro rockets and end his space flight after 3 orbits. But then another problem developed. The pitch horizon scanner, PHS, on his instrument panel was not working. So Scott was not entirely certain which way his spacecraft was pointed. Not a good thing during the fiery reentry!
Being a naval aviator, as well as an aerospace engineer, Scott Carpenter was no stranger to danger nor complex problems. He managed to get his Mercury space capsule lined up well enough to fire his retro rockets and reenter the Earth′s atmosphere. The intense heat causes a radio blackout, which usually lasts about 3 minutes. After that time had passed, NASA managers at Cape Canaveral kept calling out for him, but no answer was coming. After a while, people began to fear that his spacecraft may have burned up during reentry. But 40 minutes after he was supposed to splashdown, a search aircraft from Puerto Rico Air National Guard located Carpenter some 250 miles from where he was suppose to be.
Scott Carpenter has always contended that he was never lost. That he always knew where he was. But NASA officials were not buying it. Carpenter never flew in space again. He formally resigned from NASA in 1967 to pursue his new interest, a Navy underwater science experiment known as SEALAB. In 1965, he spent some 28 days below the surface of the Pacific Ocean in SEALAB II. Scott later became involved in other undersea projects. In 1969 he left the Navy and started a company, Sea Sciences, Inc. But 50 years ago today, Scott Carpenter became only the second American astronaut top orbit the Earth. Way to go, Scotty! It should also be noted that Scott Carpenter was the voice you hear saying, ″Godspeed John Glenn″ as he was Glenn′s ′CAPCOM′ during that historic flight.