Astronaut Gordon Cooper Dies

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On Monday, astronaut Gordon Cooper Jr., 77, died at his home in Ventura, Calif. He was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts. "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," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "Gordo was one of the most straightforward people I have ever known," recalled fellow astronaut John Glenn. "What you saw was what you got." Another of the "Original Seven," Wally Schirra, added, "We seven were bonded like brothers, maybe even closer if that's possible." The youngest of the original seven astronauts, Cooper's Mercury flight set a U.S. endurance record at the time, and he became the first astronaut to sleep in space during his 34-hour, 22-orbit mission. In 1965, Cooper commanded the Gemini 5 mission alongside Pete Conrad, establishing a new space endurance record at the time, travelling 3,312,993 miles in 190 hours and 56 minutes. Cooper was backup command pilot of Gemini 12, launched in November 1965. He also served as backup command pilot for Apollo 10, which flew in May 1969. Cooper left NASA and retired from the Air Force as a colonel on July 31, 1970. In 1983, the movie "The Right Stuff," based on Tom Wolfe's novel, reintroduced the seven Mercury astronauts to a new generation. Cooper was played by Dennis Quaid.