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Frequently Asked Questions for Scott Carpenter


What did you think of The Right Stuff?

Part of my affection for the book comes from my great affection for Tom Wolfe. But trying to put that aside, I believe the book itself accurately depicts in all its essential details Project Mercury. Tom takes literary license with nonessential details. Itís a fine book and made a fine movie, but the movie took even more license with nonessential details than Wolfe took in the book. My opinion of the book and movie is not widely shared by the rest of the Mercury guys. I liked the movie. But I wasnít portrayed in much detail and the Carpenter character you saw didnít invite controversy.

Is the face on Mars really Elvisís?

Do I really have to answer this?

What advances have been made in undersea exploration since Sealab?

Weíve developed much better closed-circuit SCUBA equipment; better breathing mixtures (tri-mix) and weíve taken some major strides in keeping divers warm in cold water. Diver-to-diver and diver-to-surface communications have been vastly improved too; although limits still exist, we can go much deeper now.

If you could have chosen your ideal spaceflight, what type would it be and what would you have hoped to accomplish?

Everybodyís dream spaceflight was a lunar landing. For me a lunar landing offered the greatest opportunity for bringing back new truths and new knowledge.

What lessons from Sealab could benefit development of bases on the moon and Mars?

Well, Sealab was a very close-at-hand, totally isolated habitat and was an ideal place for the study of long-term crew interaction in a hostile environment. We had three crews of 10 men each for Sealab 2 [JulyĖSeptember 1965]. Itís more realistic than the polar unit NASAís proposing. NASA is working with NOAA on a shallow habitat off Key Largo, Florida. The project is called NEEMO Aquarius and itís 45 ft. down and has a crew of six. Itís a very effective training device in many ways, particularly in EVA activities.

Would you fly on the shuttle?

Of course. But I donít really want to spend two years training first.

In your opinion, should we have an agency for undersea exploration like NASA is for space?

Well, yes. But we have such an agency in NOAA.

Do you envision robotic undersea explorers that function like our space probes?

Sure. We have some of thoseólike Jason, which was Bob Ballardís robotic vehicle. Theyíre irreplaceableóas are those in space.

Would you go to the ISS as a space tourist?

Iíd rather have some work to do. Iíd like to go with a purpose rather than for my own enjoyment. Bringing back new truths and new knowledge.

Whatís your opinion about the condition and ecology of the oceans?

The oceans are in dire straits. Weíre overfishing. Weíre polluting. And we donít appear to understand that the ocean has limits. One would have to write a book to document all the abuses weíre inflicting on our oceans.

After your Mercury flight, why didnít you go on to fly Gemini or Apollo missions?

When I came back from my flight [Aurora 7, May 24, 1962], I had been single-minded about earth orbit for too long and had been so heavily involved with preparations for both Johnís flight [Friendship 7 MA-6óeditorís note] and then my own that I wanted, and needed, a change of pace and didnít want to get back in to flight rotation right away.

I had flown in space, achieving a goal Iíd had since I learned about Project Mercury in 1959. Sealab at the time was a more attractive opportunity for me. It was a new challenge.

After a while, restored by the underwater work, I tried to regain my flight status. I thought a lunar landing would be a rewarding challenge. But the operation to repair the injury to my left arm did not succeed. I was medically grounded. I couldnít have a Gemini or Apollo flight, even if I wanted one.

Did you train any astronauts later on, one on one?

I canít rememberósome of my ideas for physical conditioning programs at NASA inspired some head scratching (fencing) or produced injury (the trampoline). I had an idea for neutral buoyancy training for EVA that I kept proposing for years. It wasnít approved until 1966, and I left NASA in 1967.

I do remember training Buzz [Aldrin] one on one. I remember his drive and general budding excellenceóhe was quick to learn.

Was Gordo Cooper the "best pilot you ever saw," the way Tom Wolfe tells the story in The Right Stuff ?

No, he wasnít. And Gordo laughed about the legend. He himself believed it was a preposterous idea but accepted it as part of the color of the Mercury Seven, thanks to Tom Wolfe. And the legend created evidence that an attitude, "I am the best," kind of prevailed in the group.

You canít prove youíre the best, but you can think it! The actual best in any group doesnít have to prove it or say it. It is a fact evident to everyone.

What do you think is the future, near- and far-term, of human space exploration?

The farthest we can look right now is human habitation of Mars. In the near term it is human habitation of the moon.

Underwater cities: strictly "Aquaman" or maybe someday?

Possible perhaps at 1 atmosphere. But I donít see the purpose of a 1-atmosphere habitat. To live at pressure has some advantage for an industrial community. But no advantage for residential or tourist communities.

Where is the Scott Carpenter Pool in Boulder, CO?

It's located at 1505 30th Street in Boulder. It is currently undergoing renovation and should reopen at the end of May 2011. You can visit the web site here. Here are a couple of photos of it during its renovation


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