When our world lost Scott Carpenter on October 10, 2013, it lost a quintessential “Can Do American.” It is with these three words that I am sure Scott Carpenter would most prefer to be remembered.
NASA no doubt knew what he was when he was selected as the backup pilot to John Glenn’s first American orbital space flight in February 1962 and then as pilot for America’s second orbital space flight in May of that year.
On that flight, when the orientation control system in his spacecraft failed, the entire American nation learned what he was when he piloted the machine by hand (orienting it by looking out the window), successfully landed in the ocean, and was found bobbing in his life raft 175 miles from the planned landing zone.
Failure was not an option for Americans of Scott Carpenter’s mettle. The machinery failed, but Scott didn’t. He brought that thing down out of the sky regardless of adversity.
Most Americans have no doubt read, in the many news stories published in October, of his many accomplishments in space exploration and undersea exploration. Older Americans may remember him best as the voice of the Apollo program - the astronaut designated to explain the moon missions to the public on radio and television during our nation's manned exploration or the moon.
Attendees at an annual scientific conference that I chair will remember Scott Carpenter also as a mild-mannered, friendly man who regularly attended the meetings, sometimes bringing along one or another of his astronaut friends.
And this is perhaps the point that Scott Carpenter might likely prefer that we mention here. Why has our nation been blessed with such men?
Our custom, culture, and heritage of American freedom is highly civilized. It is the result of thousands of years of experimentation in finding the most honorable, most ethical, and most beneficial way for men to live together. That way is individual liberty – a way that is memorialized throughout our literature – ancient, colonial, modern, and Biblical.