Gordon Cooper, NASA Mercury Pioneer, Dies
Gordon Cooper, Pioneering Mercury Program Astronaut, Dies at 77, NASA Says
The Associated Press
VENTURA, Calif. Oct. 4, 2004 — Gordon Cooper, who as one of the original Mercury astronauts was a pioneer in human space exploration, has died. He was 77.
Cooper died Monday at his home in Ventura, NASA officials said in a statement.
"As one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, Gordon Cooper was one of the faces of America's fledgling space program," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "He truly portrayed the right stuff, and he helped gain the backing and enthusiasm of the American public, so critical for the spirit of exploration. My thoughts and prayers are with Gordon's family during this difficult time."
Cooper piloted the final flight of the Mercury program, the United States' first manned spaceflight program that had the primary goal of putting a man in orbit around Earth.
Born March 6, 1927, in Shawnee, Okla., Cooper was selected as a Mercury astronaut in April 1959. The astronauts became heroes in the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Cooper's cocksure attitude was immortalized in Tom Wolfe's book "The Right Stuff" and the 1983 movie of the same name.
Cooper gave his signature line during a 1995 reunion of surviving Mercury astronauts. When asked who was the greatest fighter pilot he ever saw, Cooper enthusiastically answered, "You're looking at him!"
On May 15, 1963, Cooper piloted the "Faith 7" spacecraft on a 22-orbit mission that concluded the operational phase of the Project Mercury. He flew for 34 hours and 20 minutes.
Two years later, he served as command pilot of the Gemini 5 mission, during which he and Charles Conrad established a new space endurance record by traveling more than 3.3 million miles in time of 190 hours, 56 minutes.
The flight proved that humans could survive in a weightless state for the length of a trip to the moon. It also tested a new power source for future flights fuel cells.
Cooper joined the Marines during World War II and transferred to the Air Force in 1949. He flew numerous flights as a test pilot in the Flight Test Division at Edwards Air Force Base.
"Gordon Cooper's legacy is permanently woven into the fabric of the Kennedy Space Center as a Mercury Seven astronaut," said Kennedy Space Center director Jim Kennedy. "His achievements helped build the foundation of success for human space flight that NASA and KSC have benefited from for the past four decades."