Gordon Cooper

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L. Gordon Cooper, Jr.
Gordon Cooper 2.jpg
NASA Astronaut
Nationality American
Status Deceased
Born (1927-03-06)March 6, 1927
Shawnee, Oklahoma, U.S.
Died October 4, 2004(2004-10-04) (aged 77)
Ventura, California, U.S.
Other names
Leroy Gordon Cooper, Jr.
Other occupation
Test pilot
University of Hawaii
AFIT, B.S. 1956
Rank Colonel, USAF
Time in space
9d 09h 14m
Selection 1959 NASA Group 1
Missions Mercury-Atlas 9 (Faith 7), Gemini 5
Mission insignia
Faith 7 insignia.gif Gemini5insignia.png
Retirement July 31, 1970
Awards Dfc-usa.jpg

Leroy Gordon "Gordo" Cooper, Jr. (March 6, 1927 – October 4, 2004), (Col, USAF), better known as Gordon Cooper, was an American aerospace engineer, test pilot, United States Air Force pilot, and one of the seven original astronauts in Project Mercury, the first manned space program of the United States.

Cooper piloted the longest and final Mercury spaceflight in 1963. He was the first American to sleep in space during that 34-hour mission and was the last American to be launched alone to conduct an entirely solo orbital mission. In 1965, Cooper flew as Command Pilot of Gemini 5.

Biography[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Cooper was born on March 6, 1927, in Shawnee, Oklahoma, to parents Leroy Gordon Cooper, Sr. (Colonel, USAF, Ret.) and Hattie Lee (née Herd) Cooper. He was active in the Boy Scouts of America where he achieved its second highest rank, Life Scout.[1] Cooper attended primary and secondary schools in Shawnee, and Murray, Kentucky, where he graduated from Murray High School in 1945.

After he learned that the Army and Navy flying schools were not taking any candidates the year he graduated from high school, he decided to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. Cooper left for Parris Island as soon as he graduated. However, World War II had ended before he could get into combat. He was assigned then to the Naval Academy Preparatory School and was an alternate for an appointment to Annapolis, Maryland. The man who was the primary appointee made the grade so Cooper was reassigned in the Marines on guard duty in Washington, D.C. He was serving with the Presidential Honor Guard in Washington when he was released from duty along with other Marine reservists.

Following his discharge from the Marine Corps, he went to Hawaii to live with his parents. His father was assigned to Hickam Field at the time. He started attending the University of Hawaii, and there he met his first wife, the former Trudy B. Olson of Seattle, Washington. She was quite active in flying, the only Mercury wife to have a pilot's license. They were married on August 29, 1947, in Honolulu and lived there for two more years while he continued his studies at the University.[2]

Military service[edit]

Cooper transferred his commission to the United States Air Force in 1949, was placed on active duty and received flight training at Perrin Air Force Base, Texas and Williams AFB, Arizona.

Cooper's first flight assignment came in 1950 at Landstuhl Air Base, West Germany, where he flew F-84 Thunderjets and F-86 Sabres for four years. He later became flight commander of the 525th Fighter Bomber Squadron. While in Germany he also attended the European Extension of the University of Maryland. Returning to the United States in 1954, he studied for two years at the Air Force Institute of Technology in Ohio and in 1956 completed his Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering. Cooper was then assigned to the Experimental Flight Test School at Edwards Air Force Base in California, and after graduation was posted to the Flight Test Engineering Division at Edwards, where he served as a test pilot and project manager testing the F-102A and F-106B.[3] He corrected several deficiencies in the F-106, saving the U.S. Air Force a great deal of money.[4]

Cooper logged more than 7,000 hours of flight time, with 4,000 hours in jet aircraft. He flew all types of commercial and general aviation airplanes and helicopters.

NASA career[edit]

Mercury Seven[edit]

Main article: Mercury-Atlas 9
Cooper in his Mercury spacesuit, the Navy Mark IV

While at Edwards, Cooper was intrigued to read an announcement saying that a contract had been awarded to McDonnell Aircraft in St. Louis, Missouri, to build a space capsule. Shortly after this he was called to Washington, D.C., for a NASA briefing on Project Mercury and the part astronauts would play in it. Cooper went through the selection process with the other 109 pilots and was not surprised when he was accepted as the youngest of the first seven American astronauts.[5]

Each of the Mercury astronauts was assigned to a different portion of the project along with other special assignments. Cooper specialized in the Redstone rocket (and developed a personal survival knife, the Model 17 "Astro" from Randall Made Knives, for astronauts to carry). He also chaired the Emergency Egress Committee, responsible for working out emergency launch pad procedures for escape. Cooper served as capsule communicator (CAPCOM) for Alan Shepard's first sub-orbital spaceflight in Mercury-Redstone 3 (Freedom 7) and Scott Carpenter's flight on Mercury-Atlas 7 (Aurora 7). He was backup pilot for Wally Schirra in Mercury-Atlas 8 (Sigma 7).

Cooper was launched into space on May 15, 1963, aboard the Mercury-Atlas 9 (Faith 7) spacecraft, the last Mercury mission. He orbited the Earth 22 times and logged more time in space than all five previous Mercury astronauts combined—34 hours, 19 minutes and 49 seconds—traveling 546,167 miles (878,971 km) at 17,547 mph (28,239 km/h), pulling a maximum of 7.6 g (74.48 m/s²). Cooper achieved an altitude of 165.9 statute miles (267 km) at apogee. He was the first American astronaut to sleep not only in orbit but on the launch pad during a countdown.[5]

"Spam in a can"[edit]
Cooper in an SSTV broadcast from Faith 7

Like all Mercury flights, Faith 7 was designed for fully automatic control, a controversial engineering decision which in many ways reduced the role of an astronaut to that of a passenger, and prompted Chuck Yeager to describe Mercury astronauts as "Spam in a can".[6]

Toward the end of the Faith 7 flight there were mission-threatening technical problems. During the 19th orbit, the capsule had a power failure. Carbon dioxide levels began rising, and the cabin temperature jumped to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38°C). Cooper fell back on his understanding of star patterns, took manual control of the tiny capsule and successfully estimated the correct pitch for re-entry into the atmosphere. Some precision was needed in the calculation, since if the capsule came in too steep, g-forces would be too large, and if its trajectory were too shallow, it would shoot out of the atmosphere again, back into space. Cooper drew lines on the capsule window to help him check his orientation before firing the re-entry rockets. "So I used my wrist watch for time," he later recalled, "my eyeballs out the window for attitude. Then I fired my retrorockets at the right time and landed right by the carrier."[7][8] Cooper's cool-headed performance and piloting skills led to a basic rethinking of design philosophy for later space missions.

Pete Conrad and Gordon Cooper on deck of recovery carrier USS Lake Champlain after Gemini 5 mission

Project Gemini[edit]

Main article: Gemini 5

Two years later (August 21, 1965), Cooper flew as Command Pilot of Gemini 5 on an eight-day, 120-orbit mission with Pete Conrad. The two astronauts established a new space endurance record by traveling a distance of 3,312,993 miles (5,331,745 km) in 190 hours and 56 minutes, showing that astronauts could survive in space for the length of time necessary to go from the Earth to the Moon and back. Cooper was the first astronaut to make a second orbital flight and later served as backup Command Pilot for Gemini 12.

Apollo program[edit]

Cooper was selected as backup commander for the May 1969 Apollo 10 mission, and hoped this placed him in position as Commander of the planned Apollo 13, according to the usual crew rotation procedure established by the flight crew operations director, grounded fellow Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton. However, by May 1969, another grounded Mercury astronaut and Slayton's assistant, Alan Shepard was returned to flight status, and Slayton assigned the Apollo 13 command to Shepard. (Shepard's crew was soon swapped with that of Apollo 14 to give him more time to train.) Loss of this command placed Cooper farther down the flight rotation, meaning he would not fly until one of the later flights, if ever.

Retirement from astronaut corps[edit]

Disappointed by the reduced chances of commanding a Moon landing flight, Cooper retired from NASA and the Air Force on July 31, 1970, as a Colonel, having flown 222 hours in space. In his book "Leap of Faith" (pp. 176–183), Cooper charged that Shepard and Slayton had taken unfair advantage of their control of Apollo flight crew assignments by giving him the "third-in-a-row" backup crew assignment, in order to promote their own chances of flying.

However, Cooper had developed a lax attitude towards training during the Gemini program; for the Gemini 5 mission, other astronauts had to coax him into the simulator. He also entered a twenty-four hour Daytona road race while training; Slayton felt this placed him in too much danger and cancelled his entry.[9]

Slayton wrote in his memoirs that he never intended to rotate Cooper to another mission, and assigned him to the Apollo 10 backup crew simply because of a lack of qualified Astronaut Office manpower at the time the assignment needed to be made. Cooper, Slayton noted, had a very small chance of receiving the Apollo 13 command if he did an outstanding job with the assignment, which he did not.[10]

Later years[edit]

After leaving NASA, Cooper served on several corporate boards and as technical consultant for more than a dozen companies in fields ranging from high performance boat design to energy, construction, and aircraft design. During the 1970s, he worked for The Walt Disney Company as a vice-president of research and development for Epcot.

After divorcing his first wife Trudy, Cooper married Suzan Taylor in 1972. He had four daughters, Camala Keoki (Cooper) Tharpe and Janita Lee (Cooper) Stone (both from his first marriage) along with Elizabeth Jo and Colleen Taylor (from his second marriage).

Cooper received an Honorary D.Sc. from Oklahoma State University in 1967. His autobiography, Leap of Faith (ISBN 0-06-019416-2), co-authored by Bruce Henderson, recounted his experiences with the Air Force and NASA, along with his efforts to expose an alleged UFO conspiracy theory. Cooper was also a major contributor to the book In the Shadow of the Moon (published after his death), which offered Cooper's final published thoughts on his life and career.

Death[edit]

Cooper developed Parkinson's disease late in life. At age 77, he died from heart failure at his home in Ventura, California, on October 4, 2004. His death occurred on the 47th anniversary of the Sputnik 1 launch and the same day that SpaceShipOne made its second official qualifying flight, winning the Ansari X-Prize.

UFO sightings[edit]

Cooper claimed to have seen his first UFO while flying over West Germany in 1951, although he denied reports he had seen a UFO during his Mercury flight.[11]

In 1957, when Cooper was 30 and a Captain, he was assigned to Fighter Section of the Experimental Flight Test Engineering Division at Edwards AFB in California. He acted as a test pilot and project manager. On May 3 of that year, he had a crew setting up an Askania Cinetheodolite precision landing system on a dry lake bed. This cinetheodolite system would take pictures at one frame per second as an aircraft landed. The crew consisted of James Bittick and Jack Gettys who began work at the site just before 0800, using both still and motion picture cameras. According to his accounts, later that morning they returned to report to Cooper that they saw a "strange-looking, saucer-like" aircraft that did not make a sound either on landing or take-off.

According to his accounts, Cooper realized that these men, who on a regular basis have seen experimental aircraft flying and landing around them as part of their job of filming those aircraft, were clearly worked up and unnerved. They explained how the saucer hovered over them, landed 50 yards away from them using three extended landing gears and then took off as they approached for a closer look. Being photographers with cameras in hand, they of course shot images with 35mm and 4×5 still cameras as well as motion picture film. There was a special Pentagon number to call to report incidents like this. He called and it immediately went up the chain of command until he was instructed by a general to have the film developed (but to make no prints of it) and send it right away in a locked courier pouch. As he had not been instructed to not look at the negatives before sending them, he did. He said the quality of the photography was excellent as would be expected from the experienced photographers who took them. What he saw was exactly what they had described to him. He did not see the movie film before everything was sent away. He expected that there would be a follow up investigation since an aircraft of unknown origin had landed in a highly classified military installation, but nothing was ever said of the incident again. He was never able to track down what happened to those photos. He assumed that they ended up going to the Air Force's official UFO investigation, Project Blue Book, which was based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

He held claim until his death that the U.S. government is indeed covering up information about UFOs. He gave the example of President Harry Truman who said on April 4, 1950, "I can assure you that flying saucers, given that they exist, are not constructed by any power on Earth." He also pointed out that there were hundreds of reports made by his fellow pilots, many coming from military jet pilots sent to respond to radar or visual sightings from the ground.[12] In his memoirs, Cooper wrote he had seen other unexplained aircraft several times during his career, and also said hundreds of similar reports had been made. He further claimed these sightings had been "swept under the rug" by the U.S. government.[7] Throughout his later life Cooper expressed repeatedly in interviews he had seen UFOs and described his recollections for the documentary Out of the Blue.[7]

Memorial spaceflights[edit]

On April 29, 2007, Cooper's ashes (along with those of Star Trek actor James Doohan and 206 others) were launched from New Mexico on a sub-orbital memorial flight by a privately owned UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL sounding rocket. Although the capsule carrying the ashes fell back toward Earth as planned, it was lost in mountainous landscape. The search was thwarted by bad weather but after a few weeks the capsule was found and the ashes it carried were returned to the families.[13][14] The ashes were then launched on the Explorers orbital mission (August 3, 2008) but were lost when the Falcon 1 rocket failed two minutes into the flight.[15]

On May 22, 2012, Cooper's ashes were among those of 308 people included on the SpaceX flight that was bound for the International Space Station. This flight, using the "Falcon" launch vehicle and the "Dragon" capsule, was unmanned.

Awards and honors[edit]

Cooper received many awards including the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf clusters, the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, the Collier Trophy, the Harmon Trophy, the DeMolay Legion of Honor, the John F. Kennedy Trophy, the Iven C. Kincheloe Award, the Air Force Association Trophy, the John Montgomery Trophy, the General Thomas D. White Trophy, the University of Hawaii Regents Medal, the Columbus Medal, and the Silver Antelope Award. He was a Master Mason (member of Carbondale Lodge # 82 in Carbondale, Colorado), and was given the honorary 33rd Degree by the Scottish Rite Masonic body, see List of Notable Freemasons.

Cooper was a member of several groups and societies including the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the American Astronautical Society, Scottish Rite and York Rite Masons, Shriners, the Rotary Club, Order of Daedalians, Confederate Air Force, Adventurers' Club of Los Angeles and Boy Scouts of America.

The Gordon Cooper Technology Center in Shawnee, Oklahoma is named after Cooper.

Gordon Cooper was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on May 11, 1990.[16]

Cultural influence[edit]

Cooper's accomplishments (along with his widely noted and appealing personality) were depicted in the 1983 film The Right Stuff in which he was portrayed by actor Dennis Quaid. Cooper worked closely with the production company on this project and reportedly, every line uttered by Quaid is attributable to Cooper's recollection. Quaid met with Cooper before the casting call and rapidly learned his mannerisms. Quaid also had his hair cut and dyed to match how the former astronaut's hair looked during the 1950s and 1960s. Cooper was later depicted in the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, in which his character was played by Robert C. Treveiler. Cooper appeared as himself in an episode of the television series CHiPs and during the early 1980s made regular call in appearances on Late Night with David Letterman. The Thunderbirds character Gordon Tracy was named after him.

In 2010, Cooper's name and likeness appeared in a mock newspaper advertisement for a fictional ice pop-type product called "Rocket Poppeteers."[17] The ad was part of a viral marketing campaign for the upcoming J.J. Abrams film Super 8, and was originally accessible only by inputting certain information via one of the film's affiliated websites.[18][19] The extent of Cooper's relevance to the project was unclear.

Physical description[edit]

  • Weight: 155 lb (70 kg)
  • Height: 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)
  • Hair: Brown
  • Eyes: Blue

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. at scouting.org
  2. ^ L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. NASA long biography
  3. ^ Gray, Tara, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., history.nasa.gov, retrieved 20 January 2008
  4. ^ a b c L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. .history.nasa.gov
  5. ^ a b Bond, Peter (18 November 2004). "Col Gordon Cooper". Independent (London). Retrieved 3 October 2010. 
  6. ^ Wolfe, Tom, The Right Stuff 1979 ISBN 978-0-312-42756-6
  7. ^ a b c space.com, Gordon Cooper Touts New Book Leap of Faith, 30 July 2000, retrieved 20 January 2008
  8. ^ Wagener, Leon, One Giant Leap, Forge Books, 2004 ISBN 978-0-312-87343-1
  9. ^ Chaikin, Andrew (2007). A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts. Foreword by Tom Hanks. New York: Penguin Books. p. 247. ISBN 978-0-14-311235-8. 
  10. ^ Slayton, Donald K. "Deke"; Cassutt, Michael (1994). Deke! U.S. Manned Space: From Mercury to the Shuttle (1st ed.). New York: Forge. p. 236. ISBN 0-312-85503-6. 
  11. ^ Martin, Robert Scott, Gordon Cooper: No Mercury UFO, space.com, 10 September 1999, retrieved 20 January 2008
  12. ^ SPACE.com - Gordon Cooper Touts New Book Leap of Faith at the Wayback Machine (archived July 27, 2010)
  13. ^ uk.reuters.com, Ashes of "Star Trek's" Scotty found after space ride, 18 May 2007, retrieved 20 January 2008
  14. ^ Sherriff, Lucy, Scotty: ashes located and heading home, 22 May 2007, retrieved 20 January 2008
  15. ^ NASASpaceflight.com - SpaceX Falcon I FAILS during first stage flight
  16. ^ Gordon Cooper inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame
  17. ^ http://super8.wikibruce.com/images/8/8f/S8Newspaper_Page1.jpg
  18. ^ http://www.super8news.com/tag/gordon-cooper/
  19. ^ http://www.scariestthingieversaw.com/

External links[edit]