Thursday, May 03, 2007

Godspeed Wally Schirra

The Mercury Seven
Carpenter, Cooper, Glenn, Grissom, Schirra, Shepard and Slayton

I grew up wanting to be a fighter pilot. If you were to venture back to the Glendale Elementary School library, I'd be willing to bet I you can still find my name on the sign-out cards for all the airplane books in that library (if they still use cards). When I was in college, I read Tom Wolfe's narrative on the transition of some of our nation's top fighter jocks and test pilots into Nav Bags, errrrr Mercury Astronauts.

The book is really parallel narratives covering those who sold their souls to NASA and Chuck Yeager, who was left behind in the California desert to fly dangerous experimental aircraft and break the sound barrier. The book is called, The Right Stuff. It's one of the best books I've ever read. The opening chapter is an especially good read. It gives you instant insight into the kind of guy who becomes a test pilot. Wolfe portrays Chuck Yeager the good-ole-boy Lewis or Clark of aerospace exploration. He paints the Mercury Astronauts as seven Charlton Hestons in a NASA culture gone Planet of the Apes.

The movie version came out in 1983 and starred Scott Walker, errrrrr Fred Ward as the self-esteem challenged Gus Grissom, Scott Glenn as the arrogant Alan Shepard and Ed Harris as a super clean John Glenn. The book is fantastic, the movie, not so much. Dennis Quaid steals every scene in the role of Gordon Cooper. Sam Shepard played Yeager. He he played it understated to the point of being Perry Como in a flight suit.

One of those original seven Mercury Astronauts passed away today. Wally Schirra flew the perfect space mission-Mercury 8. No wasted fuel, no mis-steps, no panicky pulls on the rescue hatch emergency release. John Glenn and Scott Carpenter are now the only remaining Mercury astronauts. Navy and Marine Corps...still standing. As it should be.


magnolia_mer said...

I also noticed the passing of Wally Schirra the other day, and it hit me that we're going to be seeing more of these obits pretty soon. *sigh*

I'm a big fan of the space program ever since I got taken out of class to watch the Space Shuttle launch when I was in grade school. One of our local teachers was also a finalist for the Teacher in Space program the year of the Challenger disaster, and she came to our school to tell us about her training and showed us footage of herself weightless in the aptly-named Vomit Comet.

I've never read "The Right Stuff" but I've seen the movie. Personally, I think the best movie vehicle to capture the space program was the mini-series "From the Earth to the Moon." It's fantastic from start to finish and worth 12 hours of your time.

I've also read Deke Slayton's "Moon Shot," which I really enjoyed and Jim Lovell's "Lost Moon." Both are great first-person accounts of the astronaut life in the era before Depends.

God speed, Wally.

CasonBlog said...

Mer - Check out the book. I think the first chapter describes a test pilot checking out the wreck of a test aircraft flown by one of his buddies-a scene not depicted in the movie. I was hooked from the first paragraph.

The Acid Queen said...

I think the greater tragedy is that with the passing of each of the Original Seven, the sad reality of our country's loss of imagination and desire to rise above mediocrity is driven home that much further.