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.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
The Mercury Seven